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Yahoo Revamps Inbox, Opens to Developers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Almost a full year after outgoing CEO Jerry Yang laid out a vision for a "New Yahoo," the Web giant delivered on a major new look for its venerable home page and popular Yahoo Mail service at a press event here.

"We're creating a better, more relevant user experience," said Ash Patel, executive vice president of Yahoo's audience products division. "And we're opening up Yahoo more for third parties to leverage."

Key elements of today's announcements are a revamped Yahoo Mail and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) home page. Yahoo Mail has over 275 million users worldwide, according to ComScore.

Mail now features a "Smarter Inbox" that gives higher priority display of e-mail you care most about or receive most regularly -- from friends and colleagues for example. The smarter inbox lets you filter these theoretically more important e-mails right on the welcome page for mail.

This also ties to Yahoo's social initiative. You have to make a connection with anyone you want in your smarter inbox, similar to making a "friend" in Facebook. Essentially it's a two-way street; if you want to make Steve's mail a priority, Steve has to agree that your mail should be a priority, too.

Yahoo said the new mail features will be rolled out on a limited basis over the next several months and refined further. Yahoo is also rolling out a beta or test version of Mail that is more of a destination site with an area for third-party developers to make applications available.

Yahoo is including its popular Flickr photo sharing application from within Yahoo Mail as well as Yahoo Greetings to create and send e-cards right from within the Mail application.

"People are spending a lot of time on the Web, there's a lot of inefficiency," said John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail. Kremer said Yahoo's new offerings are designed to surface the e-mails and applications people want to see and use most directly without switching to a separate application screen.

Forrester analyst Julie Katz is impressed by Yahoo's moves, but thinks it's going to take some time for the new features to gain traction. "Consumers will have to retrain their behavior," she told InternetNews.com. You have to have a registered Yahoo profile to get the filtering features.

In the long run, she said Yahoo is making the right moves to keep its users happy and fend off migration to social sites like Facebook.

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