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Yahoo takes another step toward being more open, social

December 15, 2008 |  3:14 pm

Jerry Yang

Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang has long evangelized a big shift for the company he co-founded: Getting the Internet giant to open up to outside content and applications and to make its properties more social.

It's a game of Internet catch-up that Yang has been playing since he took the Yahoo reins in June 2007. In a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, Yang gave a sneak peek of what he envisioned.

Part of that demo finally became reality today, weeks after Yang, deeply unpopular with investors for his handling of the Microsoft takeover talks, said he would step down once his successor is found. That search is ongoing, as is the merger tete-a-tete with Time Warner Internet unit AOL.

At a press event in San Francisco today, Yahoo showed off some new features for the Yahoo Mail inbox designed to help you prioritize your most important connections and access fun features from Flickr, Flixster, Xoopit and others. You will be able to update your blog or search for photos and send them to friends without leaving Yahoo Mail, for example.

Also getting more open and social will be the overhauled Yahoo home page, MyYahoo -- your personalized home page -- and the Yahoo toolbar, which you can use to browse the Web.

This is Yahoo's effort to keep up with the rapidly evolving Web, which has become increasingly social in nature with the rise of networking stars Facebook and MySpace. Yahoo has lagged its more nimble competitors. Now it's trying to mount a comeback.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," pledged Ash Patel, executive vice president of the audience products division.

Which makes sense, because the pace of this innovation has been glacial. Patel explained that it took Yahoo nearly a year to roll out some of these features because of the sheer number of users and products the company has. Yahoo Mail has 270 million users, for example. "We are deliberate in how we roll out features," Patel said.

What isn't clear is how these new features will help Yahoo will make more money from its giant Web audience. Patel also refused to say which services would be discontinued as a result of Yahoo's struggles.

Yahoo has just undergone a particularly painful chapter. Patel said that the mass layoffs in December would not slow down Yahoo's progress. "We have the resources we need," he said. "The team is very engaged."

The new Yahoo Mail went live in the United States and Australia today at 1 p.m. for users with a new profile. My Yahoo, the Yahoo Toolbar, Yahoo TV and Yahoo Music go live later this week. With television fan portal Yahoo TV and music site Yahoo Music, you will now be able to see updates from your friends when they comment on or rate movies or music.

Yahoo is creating "a dashboard of all things that matter to me," said Tapan Bhat, senior vice president of front doors, community and network services.

Whether Yahoo users will want to use this dashboard or keep going to Facebook and elsewhere remains to be seen.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Yahoo Chief Executive and co-founder Jerry Yang. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press.

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