The unveiling of Yahoo Life (which is not the official name) as a harbinger of the company’s strategy to incorporate social networking into Yahoo’s existing mail and IM communications systems is a step in the right direction. But you’ve got to wonder what took it so long. The notion that the big Web portals could turn their IM and e-mail contact lists into full-blown social networks is nothing new. AOL tried to do the same thing with AIM Pages with mixed success. Even Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse,
who was on stage at CES with Jerry Yang to make the announcement of Yahoo Life, was thinking of this more than a year ago. In fact, I dug out some notes from a meeting I had with him in the fall of 2006 when I asked him whether Yahoo felt threatened by MySpace and social networking in general. His response then was telling:
I think it’s a fad, not the future. The majority of activity [on social networks] is communications. We already have your social network. It is who you are e-mailing. That is the core of my communications, my hub. In my opinion, in 12 to 18 months, we won’t be talking of social networking.
He was right about the communications part, but we’re still talking about social networks. And now Yahoo is playing catch-up. You get the sense that Yahoo did not take the threat of social networking seriously until recently. Will Yahoo Life be too little too late or can it make up for its tardiness by leveraging its huge number of active users?