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:

Continue reading Open Source vs. Open APIs

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.

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.