Some of the people I used to work with at Yahoo have come up with a nifty WordPress plugin called Shortcuts. It analyzes your blog posts and auto-suggests things like Flickr photos or Yahoo maps to add to your post.
The Oddpost/Yahoo Mail Beta team strikes again – check out how seamlessly they’ve integrated IM into Yahoo Mail.
Open Source vs. Open APIs
When I helped start the Yahoo Developer Network, part of my job was to go around to all the product teams inside Yahoo and convince them that it would be good for their business to open up free web APIs. The response among technical folks was pretty universally enthusiastic. It’s just one of those ideas that make great sense to an engineer. Among business folks, the response was more mixed. They would bring up a pretty predictable series of concerns. Will it cannibalize my business? How will we prevent abuse? Do we have to go first? And the unspoken concern – how will this affect my job?
Another issue that came up – one that caught me by surprise – is that some people thought open APIs and open source were somehow the same thing. As in “if we open an API does that mean we will open source our software?”. Umm, no. Both open source and open APIs have to do with technology and both have the word “open” in them, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Yet it kept coming up. For example, when Yahoo announced an open API for Yahoo Mail someone wrote a big article on how Yahoo was open sourcing Yahoo Mail (the story has since vanished, I could only find this Digg link to it).
To help clarify open source vs. open APIs, here’s a quick overview of each:
Who is Kana?
I wasn’t planning on starting the new year with a complaint, but allow me to vent about Yahoo’s horrible customer support. I’ve been using Yahoo Music to load songs onto my iriver MP3 player. Until it stopped working last week. I followed all the instructions about re-acquiring DRM licenses and resetting various things. Nothing worked (though I ended up cursing once again the idiocy of copy-protection that punishes paying customers with this kind of nonsense – it’s enough to make me want to pirate music). Finally, I decided to contact tech support. They make you fill out a long form listing all the details of what went wrong. At the end I hit send and got an error message telling me to enable ActiveX. Since I’m using Firefox, this makes no sense. So I switched over to IE, reluctantly installed their Active X control, filled out the form again, hit send and the ActiveX thingy started scanning my computer – I assume to gather information to send back to their support (an explanation would have been nice). Then after a while it stopped and told me it failed to gather all the required info. So now what! Am I supposed to contact support for the broken support form? Apparently this hideous piece of support software is made by a company called Kana. What a mess. As a former Yahoo employee this kind of stuff makes me cringe.
What a treat to see Beck’s peformance at Yahoo Hack Day last night!
He had puppets, mashups, a dinner table and lots of great music. Lots of pics on Flickr.
Photo credit: bees.
Yahoo Mail upgrade
I just noticed several really nice additions to my Yahoo Mail. One reason I like web based apps is that you open your mail app one day and it just got better. No downloads, no system reboots, no waiting. New features I noticed:
- A new way of handling attachments inline with the message, seems much faster and more efficient than the old one.
- Options are now integrated into the app and the unread message count is shown in the Windows taskbar.
- A new calendar bar across the bottom that shows you the most important upcoming events for the day. It looks like a good example of putting a very useful feature into a tiny bit of screen real estate. I’d love to use it with my 30boxes calendar (does the mini calendar understand RSS?).
- A couple of new columns in the inbox: a message size column which is useful for finding those giant attachments when you need to clear out space in your inbox, the rest of the time the size column strikes me as UI clutter (why would I care how big a message is?). There’s also a new spam zapper column that allows you to ‘delete and mark as spam’ a message without opening it. Seems like a welcome productivity improvement, but why put this button right next to the flagging button? I constantly flag and unflag messages for follow up, now I have to be extra careful because if I’m off by a few pixels I’ll zap the message as spam by accident :).
- I think the home tab might have changed as well (it has news in it now), though I hadn’t been in that tab for a while, say maybe it changed some time ago.
I use the Yahoo Mail beta as my main mail client, which means I spend hours in it every day. It’s a fantastic app and it just got even better. I wish they had comments enabled on the (WordPress powered!) Yahoo mail blog, then I could leave my feedback right there!
Update: One little thing that bothers me: the spam folder is now bolded when there’s new spam (which is pretty much always). I liked it better when it was unbold and not calling for my attention all the time.
Jeffrey McManus just announced a new product called Approver.com. Jeffrey and I used to work together at Yahoo on the Yahoo Developer Network where he did an excellent job building the original team of YDN evangelists and community managers. Approver looks like a highly useful web service that handles document approval workflow for teams (a simple, web-based way of avoiding the endless email threads with people asking you to review documents and send them around the rest of the team).
Yahoo Music, one year later
It’s been almost a year since I switched from iTunes to Yahoo Music. Time for an update. I’d say I’m 80% happy with my switch. I have little to no desire to switch back, primarily because Yahoo offers unlimited access to over a million songs, so you can search for any song and play it without having to fork over $0.99 each time. As a result, we end up discovering and re-discovering lots of music all the time, with my kids, with friends that are over to our house, it’s really a lot of fun. For example, I recently bought an MP3 player for my son (an iRiver Clix, cool device) and we filled it up with hours of music (Green Day, Queen, Kinks, Beatles, …) using our basic $5 a month subscription. I also really like the playlist sharing feature and the built-in LaunchCast radio service, both of which I use all the time.
Yahoo home page
I like the new Yahoo home page and enjoyed Read/WriteWeb's podcast about it. But Ravi (ex-Yahoo) makes a good point I had not considered:
"This homepage dropped the concept of website directory completely. I guess the transformation is complete. Yahoo! is now more about showing people in and around yahoo! network and not about showing people what’s most useful on the web. Yahoo! is the new AOL of the web…"
Important news from the Yahoo Developer Network (which I used to work on when I was at Yahoo) about a new rev of the Shopping API, and more crucially news of upcoming Photos, Calendar and MyWeb APIs. Why is this important? Because it’s the first batch of Yahoo APIs that open up personal user data. Third party developers will be able to use an authentication API to build apps based on huge data sets like the photo albums and calendars of millions of Yahoo users!
Moving On From Yahoo -> Automattic
I wasn’t going to write about this until my last day at Yahoo, but then Om Malik (the best informed man in Silicon Valley?) found out about 10 seconds after I started telling people at Yahoo, so here it goes:
After a great time at Yahoo working on projects like the new Yahoo Mail (FKA Oddpost), the new Yahoo Widgets (FKA Konfabulator) and setting up the Yahoo Developer Network, I’ve decided to move on and try out not one, but two new jobs! My main new job will be as CEO of a very exciting startup called Automattic. Formed last Fall by Matt Mullenweg and three of the other developers – Andy, Donncha and Ryan – behind the popular WordPress open source blogging software, Automattic is poised to become a leading provider of blogging services. Ever since meeting Matt over a year ago and becoming a WordPress user, I’ve been more and more drawn in by the product and its incredible community, and I couldn’t be more excited about joining them. In addition, I will also become a venture partner in a VC fund. It’s a brand new fund called True Ventures (Om kindly gave us a heads up so we could throw up a quick page) headed by Jon Callaghan, John Burke, and Phil Black (a friend of mine, neighbor, investor in my last company Oddpost). True Ventures will be focused on early stage technology investments – my favorite – and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about the VC world.
My time at Yahoo was truly fun and enlightening. I might write more about what it’s like to be inside Yahoo when I’ve had some distance from it, but I did have a great time, learned a lot of new things and will miss a lot of the really smart, nice and dedicated people I got to know and work with at Yahoo.
Happy 2006 🙂
PS: in the interest of “eating our own dog food” I’ve started a new wordpress.com blog at toni.wordpress.com. Not sure yet what I’ll use it for.
Yahoo Mail Reviews Coming In
Official reviews are coming in.
“The new interface is stunning in its simplicity and ease of use”
“The new Yahoo Mail is far superior to Gmail”
Yahoo Mail Beta
The former Oddpost team and many people on the Yahoo Mail team have been working overtime to launch the new Yahoo Mail to public beta users this week. It’s very exciting to see such a high quality product launch to one of the biggest audiences on the web. You can sign up to try it here (not sure how long it will take to get an invite). In the meantime, there are lots of good reviews popping up. One of my favorites so far is by Paul Kedrosky (who seems quite unimpeachable when it comes to product opinions – make sure you click through, he’s got one of the best review opening lines I’ve seen in a while).
New Yahoo Mail Coming
The fruits of Yahoo’s acquisition of Oddpost are starting to emerge into public view. Yesterday, we offered a few people a sneak peak of a new version of Yahoo Mail that’s based on Oddpost’s technology. There’s some discussion on it on the web. I particularly like Ross’s commentary.
Comparisons between the new Yahoo Mail and Gmail will be inevitable. However, I think it’s important to point out that the two products are aimed at somewhat different audiences. Yahoo Mail serves well over 100 million mainstream internet users. Gmail is aimed at early adopters (and as far as I know has a couple million users).
I’m a little biased, but I think this new version of Yahoo Mail will have a significant impact on people’s use of web mail. It will accelerate the move away from desktop mail by making web mail so fast and convenient that most users will never look back.