Inbox 2.0 Makes Me Sad

Saul Hansell at the The New York Times is reporting that both Yahoo and Google are planning to use their email services as the core of their social networking strategy over time.

Of course, by social network, they mean Facebook and MySpace. Not the already vibrant social networking that already goes on daily via my email inbox…no, we’re talking about widgets. and profile pages. and adding friends and linking to their profile pages.

Google’s strategy appears to be a little more well thought out. Joe Kraus, who runs OpenSocial, seems to be saying that he wants to open up the connections people already have in Gmail, and allow Open Social applications to leverage that data.

But Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse is talking about creating yet-another-social-network around Yahoo mail and its 254 million worldwide users (Gmail, by comparison, has 84 million). He says the project is called “Inbox 2.0” internally, and has several features:

  • displays messages more prominently from people who are more important to you
  • Profile pages for you and your friends
  • A news-feed that includes information about friends

As I say in the title, this makes me sad. It makes me sad because it is absurd for Yahoo to keep launching new social networking products, almost monthly, without what appears to be any sort of high level strategic vision.

A few months ago it was Mash, followed by a quiet closure of Yahoo 360. Earlier this month they let loose a new college/alumni network experiment called Kickstart.

And now Inbox 2.0, but without any statement about integration with Mash or any other Yahoo properties. And, how does their recent acquisition of Zimbra fit into Inbox 2.0?

I mean, I follow these products for a living, and I can’t keep their strategies straight. Or even figure out if there is a strategy. If Inbox 2.0 is part of Yahoo’s big vision for the future, then tell us more than the bits about the news feed and profile pages. Tell us how it can change the entire company, as OpenSocial appears poised to do with Google. And if it’s just an experiment, why screw around with one of your biggest assets.