Monday, October 23, 2006

Yahoo mail trying to Imitate Google Mail??

I just logged into my Yahoo mail account. I don't do that very often as I keep my "main" mail on Google mail. Yahoo greeted me with a "try out new Yahoo Mail beta" interface... so I said yes (I'm not really sure I had an option), and then after being shown a short tutorial (pretty nice, but more on this later), I was viewing my Yahoo mail in their new interface.

It looks and feels like a "Web2.0 app"... by which I mean that when you click on buttons and things, you get new content without full page reloads. Not fully "Web 2.0" mind you... there were no borders with rounded corners. Hm.

So what's really new?

Well, I would have thought that when you re-design your interface, you would go all out... and "leapfrog" the competition. That is to say that you would wait until your technology and feature-set was clearly superior to the competition. In this case, I'd say that although the interface is "better" than the prior Yahoo Mail interface, it is in no way superior to the competition -- which in this case, is Google Mail.

In several basic ways, they're similar. There's a window showing who sent you mail and when and what it is about. And you can click on those messages to view the mail. All without entirely reloading the page.

Oh yes: Yahoo made a big deal of teaching about how you could move mail messages using (drum-roll) drag-and-drop... except that I couldn't complete the (otherwise nice, simple, and informative) tutorial at this point because for some reason, I couldn't perform their multi-select in my browser... hmph.

Maybe drag-n-drop is marginally nicer than what Google has in this area.
But in several important ways, the new Yahoo Mail interface is inferior.

Why not fix search?
Yahoo could have attacked the single biggest issue with Google's email interface (in my mind): search. WHAT?!? Did I just say that Google search was lacking!?? Yessir. You see, when you search your email in Google search, you can't search on word fragments.
That means that if I get email from, I can't search my email for "From: betty" and find those messages. Somehow, I need to remember that Betty's email was "betty15"... I can't tell you how many times I've relied on my (future) ability to search and find my email only to spend waaaay too much time searching in frustration for the oh-so-important email.

Why not add tagging?
If click-update-without-reload (otherwise known as AJAX) and (to a much lesser extent, yet with high correlation) rounded borders on boxes aren't prime identifying features of Web 2.0 applications, I would have to say that "tagging" is. That is, the new way (the Web 2.0 way) of sorting data is not by putting it in folders, but by "tagging" it. The idea is: "don't move the data around (even metaphorically), instead, create simple labels for it...

The benefit of such a scheme is tremendous. How many times have you wanted to sort an email into two (or more!) folders... because it logically belonged in BOTH? Most email systems don't let you do this... maybe the very best (that support folders) might allow you to copy the message into both folders... yuck: now your disk-space requirements start going up. Tagging lets you just say, that the message contains informatinon about "travel" and "entertainment", and so you don't have to choose which (of those two folders) to place the email in.

Purists/theoreticians/academics might point out that just because a user-interface depicts folders, that the names of folders could be considered tags, and that internally, a system that allowed you to copy a single mail message into more than one folder wouldn't actually need to create a second copy of the message, but could instead rely on a system of folders with references to messages or something similar.

While this is true, I would argue that it requires more *work* for the end-user. Select message, copy-to-destination-folder. Select-message; copy-to-destination-folder. Compare this with the tagging recommendation system exemplified by

Ads make the Difference
In Google mail, I get to see text ads (that are "tuned" to the text in the mail message I'm viewing). However, Google has the decency to do two things: their ads are neatly coralled in box to the right of my window, and the ads are all text-based. No graphics. No flashy animation. No pop-in-front boxes that you're forced to dismiss.

To be fair, I haven't yet seen pop-in-front boxes on the new Yahoo Mail beta. But I have seen plenty of large and small graphics-based ads. They seem to be for all of the usual topics that you usually get (email-) spammed with (I wonder why that is): mortgages, check-your-credit-rating, and open-a-credit-card. Wow.

I was particularly "intrigued" (?) by a rather large graphical ad for "Nextag"... which claimed, "comparison shopping for mortgages, online-degrees, products, travel and more". First, the ad depicted a young college (?) aged woman sitting in front of a laptop... (I had difficulty believing she represented the average mortgage comparison shopper). But secondly, the list itself was puzzling. I've been watching a lot of "one of these things is not like the others" on Sesame Street with my 2-year-old son... and found several problems with this list... Comparison-shopping for online-degrees??? Talking about this improves the company's reputation how?? And I couldn't figure out what things I might buy that are not products?? But that's fine... if that's what Nextag wants... however: is that the image that Yahoo wants to portray?

I think Yahoo is missing the mark on this upgrade. Maybe I should do Yahoo a favor and stop complaining about their ads. I should close my account with them. It would be simpler and quicker.


At 10/24/2006 2:59 PM, Anonymous Ryan Kennedy said...

Craig, to your point about search, try this in Yahoo! Mail Beta. Go up to the search box and type in "from:betty". I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. The search in Yahoo! Mail Beta is actually quite good.

At 11/04/2006 4:47 PM, Blogger Craig said...

Ryan: thanks. I almost didn't get this right: then I noticed that your example indicated no spaces between From: and betty... which I (then) tried and... liked the result. Thanks.

Admittedly, my example was contrived... what I really need is "from:*betty*" or something like that...

At 11/05/2006 7:32 PM, Anonymous Ryan Kennedy said...

Craig, from:betty is a wildcard search for the string "betty" anywhere in the "From:" header. So the searches "from:betty" and "from:*betty*" should yield identical results.


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