Yahoo Offers Peek at Changes to E-Mail, IM, More

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NEW YORK -- Yahoo Inc. aims to stay one step ahead of rivals Google, MSN and AOL with sweeping changes in its core consumer communications services of e-mail and instant messenger as well as the mobile, photo-sharing, blogging and community offerings.


The new features are designed to help Yahoo users engage in activities like sending hundreds of images in a single e-mail, make computer-to-computer telephone calls, receive e-mails and instant messages on cell phones and share blogs with others. The features were unveiled in a press preview yesterday at Hotel Gansevoort in Manhattan's Meatpacking District.


"Yahoo thinks about these improvements as how do we get more people engaged in our theme park," said Brad Garlinghouse, Yahoo's vice president of communications products. "One is to get more people into the theme park and get them to do more and then to get them to never leave."


Start with Yahoo Mail, the Sunnyvale, CA, company's e-mail service. The new Yahoo Mail beta offering behaves more like a regular software application and less like a Web page.


For example, beta users can search attachments and view thumbnail images of pictures and documents in their e-mail account. Yahoo's new PhotoMail feature also simplifies e-mail photo sharing by letting users insert up to 300 images in the body of an e-mail, thus sidestepping attachment limits. And the beta Yahoo Mail has a new look and feel, behaving like a desktop client application with drag-and-drop functionality. This version is expected to go live this fall.


Instant messenger is the other area where Yahoo lavished serious attention. The company recently introduced Yahoo Messenger with Voice, incorporating technology from its purchase of Internet telephony service Dialpad. Yahoo Messenger now offers free computer-to-computer calls, free voicemail, photo sharing, tools to grow a buddy list and better protection against spam. A neat feature is the ability to share photos in real time. Users also can play interactive games like chess and checkers.


"Yahoo Messenger has become the de facto standard for the military," Garlinghouse claims. "It's amazing the stories that we hear from Bahrain, from Afghanistan and other countries of how military personnel connect with their families."


Changes at Yahoo Mobile take into account the increased role cell phones play in consumers' lives. Deals with Sprint Nextel and a proprietary client for Yahoo Mail on cell phones aim to help users better access their Yahoo e-mail and instant messages on mobile devices, including the Blackberry.


Users of the Yahoo Photo service will notice something new: The photo-sharing service now can be organized more like an Apple iTunes play list. Images can be stored in multiple albums with drag-and-drop capability.


In addition, users can customize their stamps through Zazzle.com, and they can pick up hard-copy prints at Target stores nationwide. The whole idea with tweaking Yahoo Photo, including the ability to share snapshots through Yahoo Mail's PhotoMail, is to break the mold.


"The organization that we have in the offline world doesn't have to apply in the online world," Garlinghouse said.


Finally, Yahoo is pushing its Yahoo 360° service, sticking its community, content and communications offerings with online and mobile blogs as well as other sharing tools.


All these enhancements keep in mind not just the user, but also the advertiser. For example, advertisers can sponsor, like Jeep did, an avatar in Yahoo Messenger. An avatar is a persona a user can adopt based on her interests. The other features are equally advertiser-friendly.


"The richer, the more engaged the user experience, the more Yahoo can target that user and target that message at the right time and to the right user," Garlinghouse said. "Advertising is the fabric that's woven across the Yahoo platform. Yahoo is always looking for better ways to integrate a richer advertiser experience."


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