Yahoo! to expand data sharing among friends online

Yahoo! is working to rewire the dozens of services across its site so that users can manage all information about themselves in a single place and share it with friends across the web.

”We are not building another social network,” chief technology officer Ari Balogh told more than 1 000 attendees at the Web 2.0 Expo conference in San Francisco on Thursday. ”We are building social into everything we do.”

The effort is part of a larger plan to make it easier for users to share information about themselves with other Yahoo! users and on websites that run applications using Yahoo! features, seeking to help the world’s biggest internet media company keep pace with social networks like Facebook and MySpace .

Yahoo! is spelling out this evolving strategy in the face of Microsoft’s looming, $44-billion unsolicited takeover offer.

Microsoft has set a deadline of Saturday for Yahoo! to agree to a deal on those terms or face a hostile takeover campaign. The software giant said on Thursday it will announce whether it plans to proceed with a deal or pull out next week.

Unified user profiles and the effort to make it easier for users to share information with their friends is part of the company’s broader ”Yahoo! Open Strategy” due out later this year, Balogh said. The plan would give users simple privacy controls to decide what data they reveal about themselves.

”We are going to unify all profiles throughout Yahoo!,” said Balogh, whose appointment as Yahoo!’s CTO was announced on January 29, a day before Microsoft first proposed its $31 per share cash and stock offer to merge with Yahoo!.

Social dimension

Balogh estimated there are more than 10-billion latent social connections that exist between Yahoo!’s 500-million monthly users in the form of email addresses, instant message buddy lists, address books and other shared connections.

Yahoo! aims to make it easier for users to share information via their established social ties, while protecting privacy by not inviting unintended disclosure of personal details. It will provide a single console for users to manage this data.

”Right now you manage different bits of personal information in different places and to some extent it is a fragmented user experience,” Neal Sample, chief technical architect of Yahoo!’s Open Strategy said in an interview.

Yahoo! has been discussing pieces of the strategy to be more open since last September. The details released on Thursday marked the fullest discussion company officials have made so far of its plans to rewire Yahoo! from the inside out, both in terms of underlying technical structure and user controls.

”Social is not a destination — it’s a dimension and it will infuse all aspects of a consumer’s experience on the web,” Balogh said.

Yahoo! was early to embrace the social media trend, where users share details of their lives with selected friends online, by acquiring companies such as photo-sharing site Flickr in 2005, but has fallen behind in recent years.

Because Yahoo! is seeking first to woo independent software and web services developers to support its open strategy, it could be 2009 before mainstream consumers gain access to the new services, Balogh said, in response to reporters questions.

It plans to fold various previous efforts at social networking applications ‒- MyYahoo!, Mash, and existing user profiles — into the new profile application that will enhance the use of features within both Yahoo! and other sites.

”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,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li wrote in a blog post.

”I don’t think it’s a matter of if, but rather, a question of when,” she wrote. – Reuters

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