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Yahoo Connects the Dots with New ‘Open Strategy’

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Yahoo is about to become, quite literally, whatever you want it to be.

Speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo conference in San Francisco, Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh announced a new initiative his company is calling Yahoo Open Strategy. Under this new plan, third-party developers will be able to create applications that can access every property within Yahoo’s empire — from search, chat and mail to fantasy sports, photo sharing and social event planning. These custom apps will run anywhere on Yahoo a user wants to place them. If you want to plop a third-party news application on the Yahoo front door, you’ll be able to. Or if you want to manage your fantasy baseball team on the page directly next to your custom sports news feeds, that will be an option as well.

Balogh also discussed making user profiles a more central part of the Yahoo experience. While he was slim on details, one gets the impression that Yahoo will be giving users the ability to create a Facebook-style page from which they can access and control all of their apps, get all of their information and manage their social networking assets. It will be interesting to see if last year’s profile-based Mash experiment carries over into this new strategy at all.

But this announcement isn’t about Yahoo launching a new social network, as the company’s chief platforms architect Neal Sample writes on the Yahoo corporate blog Thursday:

"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."

This strategy, whatever you want to call it — unification, re-wiring, platformization — will be a good thing for the company. Along with recently announced support for OpenID and OpenSocial, it’s clearly the next logical development for the open data web Yahoo has been so vocal about recently.

It’s also exactly what’s missing from the Yahoo experience.

Right now, Yahoo as a whole is made up of a virtual archipelago of sites and services. There are smaller, more esoteric services like bookmark management (del.icio.us), event management (Upcoming) and photo sharing (Flickr). Then there are the bigger islands, the lush behemoths like search, mail, news, finance and maps. As a Yahoo user, you can log in with one ID and "island hop," checking your Yahoo Mail, tagging your Flickr photos and reading Yahoo News without having to log in to each site as you move around.

Even though the single sign-on system makes the experience pretty smooth, it’s far from seamless. Very few sites within Yahoo feel inherently connected to their neighboring sites in any meaningful way.

With this new Open Strategy, one gets the sense that Yahoo is essentially — to extend my cheap metaphor — draining the water separating the system of islands, exposing the earth underneath and giving us all the freedom to pitch our tents (or set up shop) wherever we want.

Ari didn’t offer a formal launch date, but Yahoo usually rolls out such features iteratively over a few months, so we should expect to start seeing pieces of it soon.

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