Yahoo Makes Mail, Toolbar More Social

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Following up on an initiative it announced almost a year ago, embattled Internet giant Yahoo has rolled out a new version of its widely-used Yahoo Mail service that offers a “smarter,” socially aware inbox that can automatically highlight communications from friends on social networking sites as well as prioritized their inbox and folders based on social connections. Yahoo has also introduced a new preview version of its Yahoo Toolbar that provides access to friend updates and updates from both Yahoo and third-party services as users surf the Web.

“Yahoo Mail users have told us that they want to be more productive when they get to their inbox and they want help breaking through the clutter and getting to the communications that matter most to them,” said Yahoo Mail VP John Kremer, in a statement. “We’ve created a smarter inbox experience to address the problem of inbox overload. We’re also embedding really useful applications directly into the inbox, which should help people be even more efficient.”

The new version of Yahoo Mail is another step in the company’s “Open Strategy” initiative, which is intended to open up two-way interaction between Yahoo’s services and applications and third-party services and tools…like social networking sites and media sharing services.

The new Welcome page for Yahoo Mail “surfaces”—e.g., picks out and highlights—email messages, updates, and information from people and services that Yahoo Mail user “care about most,” based on their connections to people and their online activity. With a user’s permission, third-party applications can also tap into users’ email, calendar, and contact info to deliver messages and information relevant to individual users.

Within Yahoo Mail, users can tap into Yahoo’s universal profile service and define which users and connections are most important to them; this information is then used by the inbox and folders to offer a prioritized view based on users’ social connections. Yahoo Mail also offers a way for third parties to offer applications that can live in Yahoo Mail’s left-hand navigation panel so services can integrate right into Yahoo Mail—Yahoo promises “top brands” will soon be available right from Yahoo Mail—Flickr, Flixster, WordPress, Family Journal, and Xoopit are available now.

The new Yahoo Mail inbox is available now to users in the U.S. and Australia; open applications are available to a limited number of U.S. users. Yahoo expects the features will be widely available in the first half of 2009. About 275 million people use Yahoo Mail; the company is rolling out changes slowly to ensure minimal disruption to its users.

The new Yahoo Toolbar will enable users to check new messages in Yahoo Mail and social networking services without having to navigate to the sites directly; it will also keep users abreast of updates from their socially-connected friends.

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