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Yahoo gives a taste of its 'open' overhaul

Company demonstrates what can be done when applications are added to its increasingly open Web properties.

SUNNYVALE, Calif.--Yahoo showed its vision for what its Yahoo Open Strategy makes possible, demonstrating how it hopes to engage users more by enabling its existing sites to grow beyond their current confines.

Yahoo's Ash Patel showed this Netflix application running within Yahoo's main Web page.
Yahoo's Ash Patel showed this Netflix application running within Yahoo's main Web page. Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Ash Patel, head of Yahoo's Audience Products Division, showed an example that endowed the company's home page, search, and mail sites with the ability to deal with the Netflix video rental site.

The home page was endowed with a new Netflix application that showed movies Patel has ordered and those recommended for him. A search results, augmented with SearchMonkey technology, let him add new movies to his movie queue. And a mail application let him rate his movie directly within an e-mail.

The demonstration was designed to show what can be done by retooling the company's properties to provide a better experience for users--and more opportunities for advertisers.

"Yahoo allows developers to create applications for the world's biggest audience," Patel said. "By engaging developers to create experiences we can get the right experiences across the Web and bring those experiences into the Yahoo front page."

The demonstrations took place the day before Yahoo's Open Hack Day 2008 , in which about 300 outside programmers will see what they can do with Yahoo's technology.

Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh started off the discussion with members of the press at the company's headquarters talking about Yahoo Open Strategy (YOS). "This shows that Yahoo really wants to drive innovation for industry itself," he said. Yahoo plans on Friday and Saturday to let the developers play around with the YOS application platform, Yahoo Mail developer platform, and social programming interfaces.

Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh
Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh speaks of his company's coming open-door policy to outside programmers. Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Update 10:45 a.m. PDT: "These developers will have preview access to YOS," Balogh said, including Yahoo Mail and My Yahoo. "They'll be able to see their stuff right there on the page."

Yahoo hopes customizing the Yahoo front page will make it essential for Web users, 300 million of whom visit the site monthly.

"For those 300 million people, that front page is very relevant and engaging," Patel said, but making it a foundation for new applications is important. "A couple other things would make that front page perfect for them. But what those one or two things are is different for me, different for you, different for everybody."

Update 11:05 a.m. PDT: Yahoo emphasized that the company will make changes, such as adding new widgets to Yahoo sites, only with users' permission. Balogh showed an example of a pop-up that lets users permit or deny a new application.

"It all comes back to creating a model where users can get to what they want to do quickly, with trust," Balogh said.

Update 11:26 a.m. PDT: Yahoo also is banking on bringing a programming foundation to other ways to use the Internet: mobile phones and televisions. Marco Boerries, head of Yahoo's Connected Life division, touted those efforts.

"We want to enable a mobile ecosystem for billions of users," Boerries said.

For mobile devices, Yahoo hopes programmers will use its Blueprint foundation, which Yahoo announced Wednesday now can be used to create standalone applications on mobile devices.

For TVs, Yahoo is working with Intel and other undisclosed partners to bring widgets to TV. Those widgets could run along the bottom or side of the screen or take it over completely, augmenting a TV show or replacing it completely with, for example, a Yahoo member's Flickr photos.

Programmers will soon get access to tools to write TV widgets. "Over the next few months, you will see an SDK," or software development kit, said Oliver Petry, a director of product management working on the TV program.

Among those who've expressed interest in the TV widget program are eBay, Twitter, ABC, CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Plaxo, and Joost, Petry said. A demonstration featured many of those logos.

Dan Farber of CNET News contributed to this report.

This is a Netflix movie-scoring application running within Yahoo Mail.
This is a Netflix movie-scoring application running within Yahoo Mail. Stephen Shankland/CNET News