Yahoo! Launches Facebook Connect Competitor

A few months back, Yahoo! announced that it would be opening up the site’s services to developers in a significant way. This afternoon the company rolled out a big iteration which has a massive social component. The service has a bunch of features that developers can use to detect any individual web user’s “social presence”. So what are the new component of this open platform and what does it mean for developers?

What’s Being Offered?

First, let’s take a look at what exactly Yahoo! is offering as part of the Yahoo! Open Strategy (Y!OS) 1.0 platform launch:

  • Yahoo! Social Platform – “The Yahoo! Social Platform (YSP) consists of a suite of REST-based social APIs from Yahoo! including: Profiles, Connections, Updates, Contacts and Status.” Sound familiar? It should. The service enables users to develop a new form of social application similar to Facebook applications or MySpace applications. From a technical standpoint the applications are much more similar to MySpace applications because they take advantage of OAuth and REST. They’ve also announced a PHP SDK that developers can use to start programming today.
  • Yahoo! Query Language (YQL) – Remember FQL? If you don’t, it’s the language that developers can use to send SQL-like queries to Facebook instead of making standard API calls to retrieve user information. Yahoo! is releasing a very similar service but they are calling it the “command line version of Pipes.” Whatever they are calling it, this sounds to me a lot like FQL.
  • Yahoo! Application Platform – Wait didn’t we just go over the Social Platform? Yes we did! The main purpose of the Application Platform in contrast to the Social Platform is that it provides a centralized distribution point for applications to Yahoo! users. Back in September I wrote that platforms are the new software distributors and this further supports my assertion. Applications will have canvas pages, landing pages, invitations, notifications, a chrome, updates, and a few other features.

Yahoo! Social Platform is an “Open” Facebook Connect Competitor

Facebook Connect appears to have the best odds of succeeding so far as they have had the most partners roll out sites for any company that we’ve seen so far. Honestly at this point much of the “success” will be determined by a PR battle since none of the technology has been rolled out except for Yahoo! which has now released what appears to be a terrific platform.

It’s clear that many of the features of the Yahoo! Social and Application platforms take cues from Facebook aside from the user interface which for now appears to be completely non-existent outside of the Yahoo! chrome. Just the other day I posted about John McCrea’s lessons from attending the User Experience Summit, which was make things look good (as well as a few other key components ;)).

Yahoo! has a solid chance at boosting their developers to the forefront with critical integration points which could in the future include a link to applications directly on the Yahoo! homepage, something any developer would die for. With so much potential, social application developers are now going to be pushed to their limits.

One additional interesting factoid about Yahoo’s new platforms is that they will be leveraging OAuth and OpenSocial, each open standards for the social web. At this point, Facebook is standing alone and while they still have substantial leverage, if Yahoo! can pull all the right strings, Facebook may be forced to comply. As the Facebook platform becomes more limiting, and social application developers are stretched thin, they are rapidly searching new opportunities for growth.

The Yahoo! platforms could very well be that next place they are looking for.

What Does This Mean for Businesses?

Your in the midst of planning the social media strategy for your company and you just learned about Yahoo!’s new Open Strategy platform. While you may not understand everything that it offers, it sounds a lot like Facebook Connect and now you are forced to take this into consideration when suggesting something to the boss. Or perhaps you are the boss but being an intelligent individual that takes all options into account, you are now considering Yahoo! as a distribution channel for your brand.

Well, the reality is that all of the things need to be taken into consideration. I wish I could say it’s more easy than that. The primary factors driving this decision should be:

  • How large is your company? – If you are a large company, you should be able to come up with the funding to have a Facebook application, iPhone application, Android Application, MySpace application, Yahoo! application, and any other large platform application. Small businesses obviously can’t do that and that’s why they need to consider other factors.
  • Who’s your target market? – In the U.S., the majority of Facebook users are still 18-25. That demographic begins to skew somewhat when you start looking at the other platforms. Considering the demographic biases of each platform is important.
  • Ease of development – It’s easier to develop a Facebook application than an iPhone application. If you happen to have iPhone developers on staff though, it’s obviously a better decision to build on that platform. For those without resources, it’s clear that easier platforms will make it possible to make an application for less money.
  • Other Options – Sometimes you may not have the budget at all and instead it would be best to figure out how to leverage the social features of these platforms at minimal cost. One option would be to integrate social features into your company’s website. For those with less resources it may be useful to examine all the other options out there.

It’s clear that the trend is toward an open web and any company standing in the way of that is not likely to survive in the long-run. Whatever your company decides to do, Yahoo! has just made your decisions just a little more complex.

Yahoo! Application Canvas Screenshot

Yahoo! Application Invite Screenshot