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).
So Google released Sidebar which is competitive with Konfabulator. What I find interesting about it is that they called it Sidebar. There is already a similar product called Desktop Sidebar. More importantly, Microsoft has been showing a similar feature as part of Vista, their next version of Windows, and they’ve been calling it Sidebar for ages as well. Obviously Google knows this. Are they using the same name as Microsoft to annoy them or is sidebar supposed to become a standard name for this kind of thing?
But seriously, I’ve been working on a very exciting project: Yahoo’s acquisition of Pixoria, the makers of the amazing Konfabulator software. As of today, Konfabulator is part of Yahoo and available for free (it previously cost $20 per user). If you haven’t already, you have to try it out. Konfabulator lets you run awesome, beautiful mini-applications called Widgets on your desktop.
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.
Just listened to a great podcast by Dave Winer. He talks about the internet’s great ability to decentralize markets (eBay for p2p commerce, Expedia for travel, etc) and how RSS, blogging and podcasting are decentralizing the publishing business by offering low cost publishing channels to anyone with a computer and allowing us to route around newspapers and radio stations, the previous gatekeepers of publishing channels.
What struck me most about this is the relationship between decentralization and increased information flow. Every time we decentralize something, we end up on the receiving end of a lot more information. For example, we can now book airline tickets without going through a travel agent, but we’re also faced with lots of travel information to sort through. Similarly with RSS and blogging, we can get news directly from ‘real people’, but we’re faced with thousands of blog posts everyday to scan. This could be a bad thing (information overload) or a good one (Dave stipulates that humans are actually quite well suited to this type of information processing). In either case, it seems like a great opportunity for software developers. People seem to have an insatiable appetite for an ever increasing amount of information which the internet is glad to supply, but the software tools to process and interact with that information are still in their infancy. For example, RSS readers are still in their first generation and barely able to let us effectively interact with blogging content and already the next waves of content – photos, tags, geolocation data, etc – are building.
I learned last week that Yahoo publishes over 1 million RSS feeds (!), a summary of which can be found here. This includes about 800k feeds from public Yahoo Groups and about 60k company news feeds from Yahoo Finance, but it does not count the dynamically generated feeds from Yahoo News (scroll down to “Create your own RSS news feeds”). That’s a lot of data for consumers and developers to tap into.
A few weeks ago, I read about the idea that we are nearing the peak of world wide oil production in this Rolling Stone article. Now I’m all of a sudden seeing the idea pop up in several places. They were talking about it last night on NPR, the Guardian had this story, Boing Boing mentioned it. The theory is that sometime in the next 5-10 years we will reach the peak of world wide oil production (just like US production peaked in 1970 and has been steadily declining since). After that, production will start to decrease a few percent per year which will have an immediate effect on our lifestyles, energy consumption patterns and the geopolitical competition for oil. Apparently, this theory goes back to the 50s when a geophysicist named Hubbert predicted that the exploitation of any oilfield follows a predictable “bell curve” trend (Wikipedia entry). I find this fascinating because rather than talk about how we have decades left before we run out of oil, we are forced to face the possibility that within a few short years we will have to start making changes to our energy consumption patterns (i.e. reversing them from growing to shrinking). This seems like a plausible outcome. What I don’t agree with in these articles is the alarmist predictions of the world wide chaos that will follow the peak of oil. It seems to me that once we put our minds to it, we will be able to solve this problem and change our patterns more rapidly than people think (a possible analogy is the surprising speed with which people reacted to the world population growth problem in the 70s after there was critical awareness of it).