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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 7, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Yahoo heats mobile platform war, may “open” portal

LAS VEGAS — Look out Facebook.

Yahoo’s opening itself up as a platform for developers that could challenge Facebook and other young Internet ventures making platform plays.

Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang also unveiled an impressive update to the company’s “Yahoo Go” mobile software platform and partnerships with companies such as Motorola to preload the software onto phones.

I’ll bet it pushes Yahoo toward the front in the three-way race among the Internet giants building ad-serving mobile software platforms. No wonder Google rushed out an early version of its “Android” mobile software platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s expecting the number of Windows Mobile phones sold to double this year, reaching 20 million,

A highlight of Yahoo Go 3.0 was the introduction of third-party Internet services, which users can add to Yahoo Go home pages in the form of widgets.

This is just the start. Yang said “one of the concepts we’re talking about” is opening up Yahoo to third-party developers, a move that could take steam from Facebook and other younger Internet services by promising developers access to Yahoo’s huge user base and ad systems.

To demonstrate this, he showed a prototype platformization of Yahoo Mail that suggested the service could be transformed into a sort of console to coordinate and manage users’ collection of services and social networks.

“Our goal is to help you make the most of your busy life,” Yang said at the start of his keynote.

Co-founder David Filo came on stage at the end and said the platformization will happen sooner rather than later, perhaps within a few months.

The ability to fully customize a Yahoo home page with widgets and RSS feeds from other services would help the portal compete with iGoogle, Netvibes, PageFlakes, Windows Live and other customizable home pages. I wonder, though, if Yahoo will also let users tone down the ads.

Even closer to reality is the mobile software. Go 3.0 will initially be a beta release working on about 30 handsets but it will eventually run on the 300 handsets that current support version 2.0.

Go 3.0 includes a new icon-based interface with a “carousel” that rotates the icons horizontally. When an icon rotates into the center position, a window pops up to display a summary such as local weather or bits of the latest email messages received.

Widgets built for the platform will also work on any phone with a browser supporting HTML, and Yahoo’s also going to give third-party developers access to its technology for serving mobile ads.

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