CES 2008: Yahoo aims to simplify inboxes

Yahoo is working on a new generation of software that will bring together email, messaging, social networking and even mapping in a new service could be launched in the next few months.

Demonstrating what he called a "sneak preview" of the service at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the internet portal's co-founder and chief executive, Jerry Yang, said that his company aims to create a "smarter, more relevant" inbox.

But the service, which is based around Yahoo's webmail interface, goes beyond integrating email, instant messaging and voicemail by including services such as Flikr photo sharing, invitations from Evite, Myspace content and Yahoo's own mapping service. "We are opening up Yahoo Mail to allow developers and other third parties to use it," said Yang.

The new smart inbox scans the contents of users' other linked accounts to rank incoming messages by the importance of the sender to the recipient, rather than by date. This way, emails from close friends and regular contacts will usually be at the top of the list. The system also groups messages, including IM and voicemails as well as email, into conversations.

According to Yang, the service sets out to make Yahoo email more intuitive and useful, but it will also drive traffic to other Yahoo services and partners, ahead of rivals.

Drag an email with a dinner invitation on to Yahoo's mapping pages, for example, and Yahoo's software will scan the message, identify any addresses in it and display them on the map.

If friends invited to the meal have put their favourite foods in their MySpace profiles, Yahoo will try to identify the restaurants that best match everyone's preferences. "The system has access to all the structured information that Yahoo holds," said Yang. "It takes advantage of social networks' comment tags. It is not only about information, entertainment and commerce but complex collaboration between people."

Yang did not confirm a launch date for the new inbox but said that several elements were near the final stages of development. He did, however, announce the third version of Yahoo's mobile platform, Go, which will include small applications, or widgets, compatible with over 500 devices as well as simplified versions compatible with any phone with a web browser. Yahoo is expected to release a beta version of Go 3.0 in the next few weeks on its mobile website or from a mobile handset at get.go.yahoo.com.