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Yahoo Rewires with Developers in Mind

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. -- If you want to become a real platform player, you have to win the hearts and minds of developers. Yahoo came to that conclusion about a year ago; since then, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Internet services company has evolved a plan, called the Yahoo Open Strategy (Y!OS), aimed at providing third-party developers with the tools they need to tap into Yahoo's content, traffic and user base.

"When we started talking about this idea, we looked at what we had to offer, and it was clear that the strength of Yahoo was that we had a lot of services that developers would want to tap into," said Ash Patel, executive vice president of Yahoo's Audience Product Division. "But it has been very difficult for developers to really engage with Yahoo to leverage those services."

Until now: Speaking to reporters on Friday at Yahoo's Brickhouse facility in San Francisco, Patel and a panel of execs and managers spelled out the company's "Rewiring Yahoo" plan, which establishes a "front door" for developers into its evolving Open Stack of platform services. The stack comprises an application platform, a social platform, and a query language, all supported by Yahoo's infrastructure and providing access to its mail and search services, its media, and its partner sites.

Providing such a foundation for developers will transform Yahoo "from a walled garden to the best of the Web," Patel said.

Under the Y!OS banner, Yahoo is providing three new components: the Yahoo Application Platform (YAP), the Yahoo Social Platform (YSP), and the Yahoo Query Language, (YQL). YAP is a framework for building Web applications that can be distributed across Yahoo; YAP includes a set of APIs (social directory, contacts, status and update), which provide access to Yahoo user data and activity streams; YQL is a SQL-like query language for accessing Yahoo data.

Y!OS was announced in April, and followed shortly after by the launch of SearchMonkey, Yahoo's online development platform and toolset for utilizing the structured data collected online by Yahoo Search. The company later unveiled Yahoo Search BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service), a Web services platform designed to allow developers to tap into Yahoo's search infrastructure.

The YSP will bring "a social dimension to what Yahoo does," explained Jay Rossiter, head of Yahoo's Open Strategy. "It will, essentially, rewire Yahoo as we put different social extensions, create a common social piece, and open up Yahoo's properties across the board… And we're going to allow developers to build applications that bring that social experience to the users."

Rossiter emphasized that the YSP wasn't just another vertical social platform, but a common social infrastructure -- the "connective tissue" -- across all of Yahoo. The company plans to collapse the Y! 360 and Mash connection lists into one social repository, to tap into the aggregate relationships in Mail, Messenger, Address Book, and other social areas of Yahoo (around 10 billion, the company said) to recommend connections to users.

Developers will access the YSP via specific RESTful APIs: the Social API will provide a way to query a user's profile data and connections data; the Presence API will allow devs to update a user's presence across the network. The APIs will be based on OpenSocial, a set of common APIs for Web-based social network apps, which Google developed. Apps implementing Open Social APIs can work with any social network.

He wouldn't say exactly when, but Sam Pullara, head of Yahoo's application platforms group, promised that the YAP tools would be appearing on the Yahoo Developer Network sometime this week. The Web site characterizes YAP as "a wide open, self service environment that allows you to build an app and submit it to us, with no business development deal needed." Submitting the app, the site said, also provides "instant distribution." A new developer dashboard is also expected.

"The idea is to create a single social experience that can be shared," Rossiter added.

Such an all-encompassing interconnection begs questions about security. Neal Sample, chief architect in Yahoo's Platforms group, said that Yahoo-based apps would be required to ask for user permissions. "We will present to the user, in totality, all the things the application is asking for," he said. "It's a differentiated interface, so if an application asks to look at all of your data -- you inbox, your profile, your address book -- all of those things will pop up in front of the user, and probably look fairly scary with red exclamation points. So the users will have a chance to think about what permissions they want to grant, and the developers will naturally, in order get more installations, ask for the least scary data, because Yahoo is going to be putting yet another skull and crossbones, which will cut into their adoption level."

Yahoo's appeal to third-party developers, said Cody Simms, senior director of Yahoo's Product Management group, is the access to its users, its content, and some very popular acquisitions, such as photo- and video-sharing site Flickr and social bookmarking service del.icio.us.

And although Yahoo is providing a new language for querying, filtering and combining that data across Yahoo, it doesn't present much of a learning curve for developers. "When we were trying to decide on the best metaphor for opening up all the data on the Internet to developers, we asked what do they know best?" Pullara said. "We decided on the strategy of extending the SQL model to Web services, APIs, screen scraping, RSS feeds, etc. They're all different. But with YQL, you don't have to change any of them. The YQL engine does all the hard work."

Yahoo plans to roll out its Open Strategy components and services over the next few months, Simms said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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