With the web becoming more and more interactive, Yahoo is taking a different direction than its competitors and actively encouraging web user communities and interactivity by launching a host of plug-in applications for Yahoo Messenger, as well as opening up its Application Program Interfaces (APIs).
Pocket-lint spoke with Jeff Bonforte, Senior Director for Yahoo! Real Time Communication Product Management, to learn more about the new service and how it ties in to the greater Yahoo development plan.
For those not completely up to scratch with web talk, a plug-in is a little client that runs in Yahoo Messenger and essentially allows any user with a some understanding of coding to develop a small application within Messenger.
It lets users control how they want the Messenger service to develop so that it works for them and ties them more closely to other users.
In this beta version of Yahoo Messenger with plug-ins, third-party plug-ins from Amazon.co.uk and eBay are already being made available.
Bonforte likes one of the plug-ins that has been developed for Yahoo 360, which is Yahoo's blogging service. Within Messenger, he can see which friends have updated their 360 page and what has been added. "If I click on the changes, it shows me all the updates, all the buddies I have in Messenger, and what they've each updated."
Bonforte says that Yahoo has been trying to create a more unified role between 360 and Messenger for some time, and Plug-ins may help to drive more awareness of the 360 site. "For example, there's a little starburst in Messenger that shows you when people have updated their profile on 360."
"The concept of creating a personalised space is just now becoming a consciousness for all internet users."
The Plug-in application can also be extended to games built inside of Messenger itself. Bonforte cites one example where a virtual cartoon room is set up and both parties enter the room as cartoon characters. The cartoons respond to certain words or phrases typed into the chat window, so that if one person says "I love you", his or her character's heart throbs. Or if one says to decorate the room with posters of, say, Jessica Simpson, Yahoo will grab images from a web search of her and plaster the virtual room with them.
"We can extend it forever", says Bonforte. "The only thing limiting it is a user's imagination."
Perhaps one of the most useful Plug-ins so far developed is one that works with Babblefish, the online translator, to translate text during a Messenger chat in real time. Both parties see their language displayed in their own chat window.
Interestingly it is the company's Indian division that created it rather than the US. "That wasn't developed by our engineers in the US, it was developed by our engineers in India", notes Bonforte.
Indeed, one of the most interesting elements of the application is that rather than relying on Yahoo developers and engineers to come up with things that they think user want, it lets users drive the development themselves.
"With plug-ins we can create new worlds without any client changes."
Bonforte believes that where Yahoo's plug-ins has an advantage over Apple widgets and Microsoft's upcoming Gadgets is that it has a platform of Real Time Communications to run on.
Not quite everyone will understand how to write a plug-in, but Yahoo aims to make it as easy as possible by releasing a toolkit. "On the developer side, if you can write a webpage, you can write a plug-in. They're that simple."
The toolkit can be downloaded athere
Bonforte continues, "One of my favourite concepts for plug-ins is for local plug-ins. One person could design a plug-in and use powerful search engine technology to use local search or national search".
For example, any association or club could develop their own plug-in to keep members updated via Messenger of meeting schedules or reminders.
Yahoo has already put in place safety nets for ensuring that plug-in makers don't run riot with porn or violence, as each plug-in goes through a certification process before being made live. "We make sure the user is protected, so everything has to be signed and certified. We also check useability and resource management, so we run it through a battery of tests" says Bonforte.
"If it's a small plug-in, when we check it for usability, we may not say anything, or we may come back and say, our study showed this and this is going to be confusing."
Impressively, Yahoo is rolling out the application in 19 releases for different regions and languages.
Despite Yahoo's enthusiasm for winning over the world to joining one big community, a rather large obstacle stands in its way; namely, a lack of interoperability with some other instant messenger services.
"There's a huge opportunity for interop, and we've been working for years with MSN. What's great is that [the two services] represent 300 million users worldwide."
There's no pending deal with AOL Instant Messenger, but Bonforte says, "We're ready to talk to AOL."
Some of Yahoo's services, like their VoIP service that is integrated with Messengers, are perhaps not as well known as some of their competitors, like Skype.
Bonforte says that the company's strategy is not to try and compete with landlines and home phone services, but to provide a service that is not just about voice.
"If you think, what's next for voice, making a PC behave like a phone is not really compelling...[Yahoo is working towards having it be] totally different behaviour."
Yahoo's strategy for the communications industry already extends to Yahoo on a mobile phone, a service called Go Yahoo. "It's a complete Yahoo experience that includes mail, messenger, search, all integrated into your mobile.
"What we're trying to figure out is, can we give you the power of what's on the internet and make it more intuitive for the mobile. I think usability hinders a lot of applications on the mobile phone."
Yahoo may just change the way the world communicates on the internet, one plug-in at a time.