Yahoo 360 preview
March 27, 2005
On Thursday I was pleased as punch to be invited to a preview of Yahoo 360, the long-awaited Product Formerly Known As Mingle, which goes into beta tomorrow. I felt out of place through most of the event — I believe I was on the only guest who didn’t mention Flickr — but it was intensely interesting to see Yahoo’s product development process at work.
360 itself is a testament to the strategic intelligence, grinding relentlessness, and sheer hard work of the top-notch Yahoo product teams. The best capsule description of the product I’ve heard so far is “LJ with fewer cutters”. I’ve never personally used Yahoo Photos or written any reviews on the shopping-related parts of Yahoo or done much on Yahoo Groups, but those are very neatly integrated with the service. What Yahoo 360 most interestingly doesn’t have is a graph that allows you to peruse friends of friends of friends.
Which brings me to what I really learned from my visit to the big Y. I thought a lot of the discussion was unfocused by the fact that no one in a position of authority would definitively say, “This is or isn’t our target market”. I would have thought it pretty obvious that Yahoo isn’t going to explicitly target the Xanga teens or the Slashdot wireheads — I mean, their marketing is 100% mainstream whitebread America — but I still kept waiting for someone to say it. Then after awhile, it began to dawn on me: wow, with 165 million users you don’t have a single target market.
That said, I think the brilliance of the product is that it fills the big market that is most underserved by blogging today: mainstream women over 22. Whether consciously or not, 360 is a surprisingly feminized product — with heavy use of gendered terms like “sharing” as well as functionality (e.g. fine-grained privacy controls, secret personal groups) that jibes exactly with the needs I mentioned in my SXSW talk. A surprising number of women still feel that their thoughts are not “important” enough to impose on the public, but they might enjoy communicating with their friends using these new tools.
As a mainstream woman over 22, I’m seriously thinking of moving part of my blog, if not the whole thing, over to Yahoo 360. I’ve wanted a semipermeable blog for a long time, but the only alternative was LiveJournal — which isn’t particularly my peeps, as shown by the fact that only one of my friends has a LiveJournal. But all my close friends are already registered Yahoo users, so it will be easy to let them see my secret blog entries. I’m a little concerned about the legal aspects — I’m pretty sure it would take only a simple subpoena to make Yahoo give up my private data without a peep — but it might in fact be good to fight those court cases on the Yahoo platform. I’m psyched about finally being able to blog what I’m really thinking and feeling, not just what I feel is OK for public consumption. If Yahoo 360 gives me that, I’m going to give it love no matter how unhip it supposedly is.