Yahoo Mail to all users in the US and across 18 international markets. Previously Yahoo Mail Beta (as it is known) was only available to a relatively small group of people.Today Yahoo is releasing the new Ajax-powered version of
I spoke exclusively to Ethan Diamond, director of product management for the new Yahoo! Mail, to talk about the product. Ethan was previously the founder of Oddpost, a pioneer in Ajaxian web email, which got acquired by Yahoo in July 2004 - so he is the perfect person to speak to when it comes to web email.
Yahoo! Mail is the No. 1 Web mail service in the world - it has 255 million users according to comScore's July 2006 figures. By comparision, MSN Hotmail has 234 million, AOL Mail 56 million and Google's Gmail 49 million. Check out our overview of the web email market, for more context. So this release of Ajax functionality in Y! Mail Beta to 255M-odd users represents the largest scale use of Ajax in the world - together with the release earlier this year of Yahoo's re-designed homepage.
Yahoo Mail Beta
The new Yahoo Mail Beta is touted as being as functional as a desktop email client (such as Outlook). Other new features include an integrated calendar timeline (including mashups with Yahoo Maps), drag and drop e-mail organization, message preview, tabs for messages, plus an integrated RSS reader. There are also plenty of links to other Yahoo properties, such as this one just above the inbox: "Start your own blog here" (which leads to Yahoo360).
In my testing of the product, my favorite feature so far is a seemingly simple - yet surprisingly effective - one: the ability to have multiple e-mail messages open at the same time using tabs. Given that I virtually live in my email inbox and often am conducting a few email conversations at a time, this feature comes in very handy!
My only gripe about the product is that it is advertising heavy - but then people could say the same about my blog! ;-) They are predominantly ads for other Yahoo properties though.
RSS Reader integrated with email
The podcast interview has been edited (mostly to cut down my long-winded questions I think!), but following are the questions I prepared for Ethan. I re-phrased some of them during the interview...
1) Can you give us a bit of history about both Yahoo Mail and Oddpost, how they've evolved over the years and eventually (finally?) become integrated. And leading on from that question, Yahoo acquired Oddpost in July 2004 - why has it taken so long for Yahoo Mail to incorporate some of the Ajax features that Oddpost had 2-3 years ago?
2) The new Yahoo Mail Beta will function more like a desktop client application - including using the traditional 3-pane view, having folders, drag and drop, and so on. Some would argue that web-based email requires a different UI paradigm than a desktop client - for example Gmail's "conversation view" and labels instead of folders are two features that I love. Why does Yahoo believe that the desktop UI paradigm is right for web-based email too?
3) Tell us more about the calendar timeline, which is one of the main new features. What makes it different from your main competitors (Google, Microsoft, AOL)? One difference seems to be the Yahoo Maps integration with calendar - is that available outside the US?
4) The integrated RSS Reader is an interesting feature, because once Yahoo Mail Beta goes live to your 250M or so mainstream users - that will automatically make Yahoo Mail by far the biggest RSS Reader on the planet. It will go a long way towards making RSS mainstream in fact. How will you promote this new feature to your user base, given that RSS feeds are still not widely used in 'the real world'?
5) Tabbed messages is a nice UI innovation, meaning you can open and compose different email messages in multiple tabs. How did that feature come about?
6) What's the marketing strategy for the beta roll-out - will you be aggressively promoting it across Yahoo's properties and in mainstream media?
7) What's the timeline for going live with the new Yahoo Mail Beta (i.e. when will the "beta" be taken off)?
8) What's your vision for web email for the next 5 or so years? Now that rich interaction can be achieved using Ajax and all the major Internet companies have done that with their web email services, what can we as consumers expect next from web email? More integration with other Web Office apps, for example?
Update: A screencast has now been made available.