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« Meet Charlene and Josh at Web 2.0 Expo | Main | Economies of scale in the very personal groundswell »

April 24, 2008

Yahoo! Open throws down the gauntlet for the open social graph

by Charlene Li

Yahoo! unveiled Yahoo! Open at O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo today. In a nutshell, Yahoo! is doing the following:

1. Rewiring Yahoo!. They are making it possible to create applications that can be shown throughout all of Yahoo!. That means search, mail, front page -- everything.

2. Open Yahoo! to developers like never before. Third party developers will be able to write applications that appear throughout Yahoo!. That's right -- you can write a mashup that integrates Yelp reviews into search results that appear anywhere -- on search results or even the home page.

3. Making Yahoo! more social. Yahoo! has over 10 billion connections lodged inside its various services -- think about all of the relationships expressed in address books, Messenger buddy lists, and most importantly, Yahoo! Mail flow. You'll be able to have your social graph appear throughout Yahoo! as a results (more on what this will look like below).

For me, this is a significant step forward in the next phase of social networks and the social Web. I wrote about this last month in a post about the future of social networks, where social networks will be like air. It makes no sense that your social connections be locked up in a social network -- when I receive a message within Facebook, there's no way to forward to it my work colleagues, friends, and family who are not on Facebook. And that significantly reduces the effectiveness and value of Facebook to me.

Yahoo! is clear that they are NOT creating another social network. Yahoo! CTO Ari Balogh said in his Web 2.0 Expo speech, "This is about making Yahoo! social in every dimension. Social is not a destination -- it's a dimension and it will infuse all aspects of a consumer's experience on the Web."

I couldn't agree more. Yahoo! is the foundation for hundreds of millions of users every month (Ari said that 500 million people worldwide use Yahoo! each month). But the real potential of this is that the social experiences that a person has on Yahoo! will be ported to other sites. In March, Yahoo! announced that it would support OpenSocial, meaning that applications developed for and on Yahoo! will be portable to other OpenSocial sites like Google and MySpace.

The potential here is that what will become portable is more than just the applications, but also the social graph of each Yahoo! member. There are still plenty of details to be worked out, in particular, control over each person's social graph. But in my discussions with Yahoo!, I'm confident that they will take the appropriate measures to ensure that each person has full control over how their activities and relationships are mapped, expressed, and revealed.

Ari didn't discuss specific timing, but I suspect that we'll see parts of Yahoo! Open rolling out over the next few months. I'm especially interested in seeing how Mail integration rolls out, especially the prospect of being able to implicitly map out my relationships. That's because I don't use Yahoo! Mail -- I use Gmail. Will Yahoo! enable me to reach into Gmail with its APIs and map out the relationships? I believe that they will -- after all, it behooves Yahoo! to bring me back into the Yahoo! network, even if I still keep my feet firmly planted in Gmail. 

The question inevitably arises -- is this a "Hail Mary pass" on the part of Yahoo! to fend off Microsoft? I think not. To Yahoo!'s credit, they have been focused -- as much as a company can be under the circumstances -- on executing on a strategy initiative that started last year. Regardless of how the Microsoft/Yahoo! dance turns out, Yahoo! will be setting a precedent for other portals and social networks to follow.

So it will be interesting to see how quickly the other players -- like Google, Microsoft, MySpace, and Facebook -- answer the challenge that Yahoo! has set down. I don't think it's a matter of if, but rather, a question of when.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about what a completely open, "social-ized" Yahoo! means to you. What experiences would you want? What concerns do you have?

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Comments

Brian Hayashi

I'm interested in extending the social graph to businesses (especially hotels, CBDs, malls, that kind of thing), something I call the commercial social graph.

Every year, something happens to over 30% of the commercial social graph. Restaurants start up, they fail, new ideas come onto the scene -- and given the average businesses' level of technological prowess, they are more likely to start spamming everyone in sight as be respectful and pursue a true opt-in strategy.

I would like to see Yahoo! help consumers establish online opt-in processes that make it easier for consumers to share information with trusted businesses, and keep spammers out, without resorting to a Draconian Do-Not-Call-type registry that doesn't allow for the varying levels of trust that are representative of the way people really interact with brands.

Filiberto Selvas

Interesting announcement; however what catches my attention is this specific quote:
“This is about making Yahoo! social in every dimension. Social is not a destination -- it's a dimension and it will infuse all aspects of a consumer's experience on the Web.”
Let’s complement that with some words taken out from the Yodel Anecdotal post itself:
“There’s a massive, latent social network within Yahoo!, and we’re going to bring it to the surface. We’re making Yahoo! more social, but we’re not building yet another social network. We already have an incredible social network… we just need to unlock it.”

What can I say: Yahoo gets it! Think about how many companies can say that (Google, Microsoft) but how few simply get it and are transforming their experience into a social experience.. versus simply having the social network / community as something out there in the corner...

Desmond Haynes, Jr.

The heady plans are smart but have come too late.
-Des
http://techwatch.reviewk.com/2008/04/yahoo-social-platform/

Elliott Ng

"Open" is Yahoo!'s biggest chance of success and survival -- attracting great developers and influencers to create a sense of vibrancy and interestingness to both their Search product and their network properties. I feel that they are on the right side of history and totally consistent with your "Social Networks are like Air" thesis. Only question is if an organization famous for its disorganization can actually make the moves fast enough this time!

Malcolm Kass

"The question inevitably arises -- is this a "Hail Mary pass" on the part of Yahoo! to fend off Microsoft? I think not."

I think you are right, but this does raise the value of Yahoo to Microsoft, and other potential suitors. While not a true "defense" tactic, there is zero downside rolling this out.

Another quote that caught my eye...

"when I receive a message within Facebook, there's no way to forward to it my work colleagues, friends, and family who are not on Facebook. And that significantly reduces the effectiveness and value of Facebook to me."

I would be curious that how much "value" is really eroded? I agree in the absolute sense, but the quantity is key. People compartmentalize, but I do guess there are tidbits of info within each network that would be nice to broadcast to one's other networks.

zbaz grey

The 360degrees social tool is not very effective for connection is not free.
Yahoo should stop sending messages from paid members if you are not a paid member. Yahoo should also run a free dating site instead of charging $300/yr.

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