Yahoo’s New Application Platform Is Heavy On Social Features

Yahoo announced more details around its new application platform at a press event in San Francisco on Friday.

The new platform, dubbed Yahoo Open Strategy (YOS), represents an attempt to unify all of the company’s services using the same technology. The end result is a massive overhaul of its user-facing services, many of which are modeled after the most popular features of social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

New system-wide features include Twitter-like status updates, widgets and plenty of of APIs third-party developers can use to access Yahoo social sharing services.

In other words, think of what Yahoo would look like if you added all of Facebook’s famous features. Still, Yahoo spokesmen were eager to brush off any similarities to Facebook. In essence, the YOS strategy is what you’d get if Yahoo took all of its killer features — search, mail, calendar, photo sharing and a customizable start page — and added Facebook’s killer features — status updates, rich profiles, contact management, the Facebook Connect login apparatus and various APIs.

In many ways, its as if Yahoo is catching up with Facebook. In doing so, it might give Facebook, a company mired in aimlessness, incentive to carve out some clear direction. Considering the amount of development resources Yahoo has thrown behind Flickr, Yahoo messenger, Yahoo mail, web search and the rest of its empire, if the company can build a social network that’s actually successful, it will be in a position to truly compete, giving Facebook and MySpace a run for their money.

Yahoo is touting YOS’ infrastructure benefits as a more robust and scalable computing cloud than what its competitors have to offer. There are a staggering number of features packaged with the new platform. Below is the boiled-down feature list:

Platform Feature What Does it Do? Sounds like?
Accounts Unified Yahoo accounts, this time with light registration. For example, you can register with a Hotmail email address. Yahoo Accounts, Google Accounts, Windows Live ID
Administrative Interface A rich administrative application to carefully allow or disallow application access to your profile data. You’ll be able to individually administer any particular data point an app is requesting OAuth (in fact, it uses OAuth), Facebook’s application installation process
Profiles It’s a pretty straightforward address book, but unified over all Yahoo properties. No need to enter profile information twice. Plaxo, Google Contacts, Windows Live ID
Activator Suggests contacts based on who you email or contact most. Gmail & Google Talk contact sorting, Facebook Recommendations
Updates Status updates via an API. For example, you could

see messages like “Scott just uploaded a Flickr photo.”

Facebook, Facebook BUZZ, Twitter, FriendFeed
Application Platform Gadgets, widgets, and other web applications integrated into Yahoo properties — including OpenSocial apps. Facebook applications, iGoogle widgets, Yahoo front page feeds
Data (YQL) and API Access Application programming interfaces for all of the features listed here plus mainstream Yahoo products. Want to download your Yahoo profile? You could write a script to do that. SQL, Yahoo Pipes, Web 2.0 API’s

The downside? If you want to play, you’ll need a Yahoo user account. Despite Yahoo granting full access to all of its data and applications through APIs, to utilize any of these “open” features, you and your friends will need to move what is on your Facebook or MySpace account and add it to your Yahoo account, too. Yahoo sees this as a way to get more users, and get them using more Yahoo products.

Yahoo’s Ash Patel says the success of the new platform will be measured purely by how much traffic it generates across Yahoo properties.

“For instance,” he says, “the average user using two or three things is now using four or five things. From the point of view of being the biggest publisher on the web, this will really increase the amount of users we have.”

Patel also touched on the attraction for third party developers to get cracking on its APIs. “We can sit here at Yahoo and we can guess all these applications [that users want], or we can get all this information out and let developers build it themselves.”

Furthermore, Yahoo’s Application Platform allows developers access to Yahoo applications in innovative new ways. For instance, the ability to build applications (complete with ads) for integration on Yahoo’s front page, which, according to Patel, is the most-used starting point on the web. Building an app for these pages gives software companies an opportunity to tap Yahoo’s audience for both users and advertising money. Also, Yahoo’s upcoming OpenMail feature will allow users to build applications on top of Yahoo Mail — similar to Google’s Gmail Labs, except at the hands of third-party developers.

Yahoo is rolling out these features over time. Users saw the first wave with SearchMonkey, BOSS and FireEagle earlier this summer. Last week’s refresh of Yahoo Profiles, complete with its new Update application, was the first consumer-end piece of the platform. Sometime next week, Yahoo’s Application Platform (including OpenSocial integration), YQL database and Yahoo APIs will see a first-stage release.

Further in the future, we’ll see the rest of Yahoo’s many properties begin to utilize all of the new features of the platform.

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