Yahoo! Mail: the past, present and future


Back in October last year, we previewed a lot of the changes that Yahoo! would be making in 2009, including some of the changes they’d be making to their webmail product.

Well, this morning I descended into the depths of Yahoo! HQ in central London to meet the Head of Mail for Europe, David McDowell. We spoke wide-rangingly, but most of the chat focused on extra detail on what will be happening to Yahoo! Mail in the next two months or so.

Losing Popularity

It turns out that the introduction of a new, slick, interface proved unpopular with users. The javascript-heavy frontend might have proved usable when running locally, but on many users’ PCs it crawled. Yahoo! started losing marketshare, dipping down several percentage points, which in the mature market of email means trouble.

So, acting nimbly, the big Y! jumped into action, stripping down the features and lightening the application considerably. Out went the snazzy RSS reader that less than one percent of people actually used. A vocal minority complained, but the users started to trickle back. They also put a lot of work into speeding up the code and now Yahoo! is back to 39% marketshare – higher than it’s been in a year.


Why didn’t people like RSS? McDowell is non-committal: “It boils down to narrowcast and broadcast. Most people will tell you that they like customisation and personalisation, but most people will not make the (time) investment to make that happen”. Yahoo found that people couldn’t be bothered to set it up.

But they haven’t given up on RSS. I suggested that the company should use the ‘social graph’ that it has for each user – where it can work out who a user’s friends are by how much they interact with different people – to suggest relevant blog content. “The user says: if you can (set up an RSS feed) on my behalf, in a transparent way,” McDowell concurred, “then that would be very beneficial”.



We also talked about mobile. Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Yahoo! Mail’s users take advantage of the wide range of mobile clients available to access their email on the go.

Yahoo! wants to pump that up, though, and users will soon have the ability to visit a website on their phones where the company can auto-detect the best experience they’ll be able to get, and point them to the relevant bit of the site. People with smartphones will get downloadable apps, but less capable handsets will be pointed to the HTML version.


Lastly I asked McDowell about a couple of common complaints about Yahoo! Mail’s service. Firstly that the screen resolution limits are too restrictive – users of netbooks with resolutions below 1024×768 can’t get the shiny new interface and have to use the ancient HTML version.

Apparently the company aren’t too bothered about that – seeing it more as a feature: “The application is like a desktop application. So, if the resolution gets too small then the elements just merge and you can’t see what’s going on,” McDowell continued, “We’re the only big email provider to offer two distinct products – they meet two different sets of needs.”


Secondly, I asked why users were forced to choose between .com and addresses – with many wanting to receive UK content on most of the site, but sticking with a .com address because it’s easier for people to remember. McDowell acknowledged that this was an issue and they’re addressing it:

“Coming up very soon, users will be able to register .com addresses but still get UK content, and then they’ll be able to go into options and choose if they want any email that’s sent to [email protected]”.

That’s a great step forward for usability, especially as it’s currently impossible to register a .com address if you’ve already got the corresponding


Yahoo!’s working on bringing users a smarter, faster and more social inbox. It’s still a very ‘traditional’ approach to email, especially when compared to GMails tags, conversational threading and labs features, but it’s probably the best ‘traditional’ webmail client out there. It doesn’t scan messages for advertising reasons, unlike Google, it offers fully infinite storage and McDowell is adamant that people still like filing emails into folders.

I’m not about to jump and go grab a Yahoo! mail account – I’m very happy with my GMail – but if you’ve tried Google’s client and you didn’t like it, then Yahoo! is probably the next best thing. It’s just a shame that Yahoo!’s userbase isn’t really ready for RSS yet.

Yahoo! Mail

Spotify confirms mobile ambitions, and outlines roadmap


PaidContent UK has a great interview with Daniel Ek, the CEO of the so-good-it-makes-us-weep music streaming service Spotify. It’s very wide-ranging, but the most interesting bits cover Spotify’s plans for the future.

Ek discusses whether Spotify is viable as ad-funded alone – saying: “We launched probably at the worst possible time in 70 years for advertising.” He points out, though, that the service has A-list brands involved and average listening times per user are “over an hour per user per day”.

The other option is funding the service by pushing the site’s premium offering. Although Ek acknowledges that the vast majority of users aren’t paying, he says: “Rest assured, we haven’t really started doing the kind of features that we think will really drive adoption of becoming a paid user.”

What might those features be? Ek discusses user-created radio stations, exclusive interviews and cross-platform interoperability. On that last note, he’s talking about mobile service – the area where Spotify could finally drop the axe on the iPod.

But, like Apple, he wants to do it right: “The success of Spotify is based on its simplicity – we won’t do another mobile thing where it works (only) so-so – we’re going to do it where it’s simple, easy and just works.” He also promises plenty of upgrades for the desktop client in the meantime.

There’s more discussion of Spotify’s plans for launching in the States and Ek’s take on the Pirate Bay court case in the interview – go check it out. Then come back here and let us know in the comments what features would make you pay for a Premium subscription.

Universal digital chief: Android's selling bucketloads of Amazon MP3s, litigation is not a long-term fix to piracy


I haven’t exactly hidden my contempt in the past for Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music Group. For many years, UMG has ridden the coattails of the other record labels, particularly the trailblazing EMI, when it came to digital music. It was with mild trepidation, therefore, that I began to read Cnet’s interview with UMG’s Digital Music head honcho, Rio Caraeff.

There are a number of interesting nuggets of info in the interview – that Android’s driving “a ton” of sales for Amazon MP3, that litigation is not “a definitive or long-term fix” for piracy, and another confirmation of the “tens of millions of dollars” that Rio had previously claimed the label was getting from YouTube.

Most interesting of all, though, is the way that Rio sounds like a guy who’s really got his head screwed on. He speaks very knowledgably about digital music, but the most telling statement is when he says “We’re trying new things constantly. There is nothing we won’t try.” Trying new stuff was one of the central themes of my Six Tenets series about how the next generation of music companies will work. Good to hear someone so high up in the ‘traditional’ industry echo those sentiments.

Cnet’s Rio Caraeff Interview

Related posts: Universal Music: We’re getting heaps of cash from YouTube | Dell fills its PCs with Universal MP3s

iPlayer project chief talks iPlayer 2.0 and Broadcast 2.0


The iPlayer’s now been around for just over a year, and the project chief, Anthony Rose, has had a chat to the Guardian about how he sees the future of the application. Damn, it looks rosy.

He mentions a wealth of brilliant-sounding features, including a sign-in system, an online library, and a system that lets you talk about BBC programmes with friends. Essentially, they’re making the iPlayer social. Your friends will be able to deliver recommendations and ratings and discussions will only be shared with that friend network – not the whole userbase.

Star Wars MMO: The Old Republic announced


In July, CEO of EA John Riccitiello revealed the existence of a second Star Wars massively-multiplayer-online-game, or MMOG, as they’re known. The first, Star Wars Galaxies, was initially popular when released in 2003, but after sweeping changes were made to the gameplay in late 2005, players left in their droves. This new attempt at hooking the vast intellectual property that is Star Wars into a MMO framework looks like it could be successful…

3 blasts other mobile networks: "The industry has completely and utterly lost touch"


At a regulatory round table event this morning, 3 CEO, Kevin Russell, fumed at other UK mobile carriers, accusing them of “scaring consumers senseless” over roaming charges, and calling the current UK regulatory environment “farcical”, “a fundamental failure” and absurd”.

3, which has less than 10% of the market in the UK, has struggled over recent years to compete with the big boys – O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile. Kevin Russell, however, who joined the company in January last year, is tasked with changing the status quo. To say that he’s upset about the currently regulatory climate would be an understatement…

Wozniak: the iPod is dying, and the iPhone's rubbish


Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Inc, reckons that the iPod has had its day, and doesn’t like the restrictions Apple have imposed on the iPhone. Wozniak, or Woz as he’s more commonly known, spoke to the Telegraph and said oversupply could bring the iPod down:

“The iPod has sort of lived a long life at number one. Things like, that if you look back to transistor radios and Walkmans, they kind of die out after a while. It’s kind of like everyone has got one or two or three. You get to a point when they are on display everywhere, they get real cheap and they are not selling as much.”