The last time I wrote about open social -- well, actually it was more about data portability, or the ability to carry your social network data with you all over the Web -- was May 7.
Since then, the topic had mostly gone quiet, until two recent announcements by Yahoo and AOL countered the trend. Not coincidentally, they are both portals that have lost much of their online buzz, and both announcements are clear attempts to hitch onto the social networking train before it gets too far away.
Yesterday, Yahoo said it was launching an upgraded Yahoo inbox, which would allow Yahoo's email users to incorporate social tools into their mail. Promises a company press release: "The smarter inbox experience features a new Yahoo! Mail Welcome Page which surfaces messages, information and activity updates from people users care about most, as well as an updated inbox and folder view that filters messages from those personal connections." The other part of the news is that Yahoo mail will now accept third-party applications.
If it sounds like Yahoo is adding Facebook-like features, that's much of the point. Yahoo, which is putting this new inbox initiative under the umbrella of a wide-ranging "Open Strategy" push, has to somehow make itself a more vibrant part of the social networking framework, so it's engineering what might be called data portability in the reverse: instead of your profile traveling the Web, your social network comes to you.
The Yahoo news follows on the heels of AOL doing much the same thing last week, launching, through its Bebo unit, a -- guess what -- social inbox! On the surface, the AOL offering sounds more robust than the Yahoo one, allowing people with AIM or AOL accounts (which is to say, everybody) to aggregate "feeds and updates from Twitter, Flickr, Del.icio.us, YouTube, AIM and others. The new experience also offers one-click access to Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, as well as user-selected media favorites, such as videos, music and photos."
Well, you get the drift. Pick your social media partners right and you'll never have to leave AOL.com again. Of course, to most social media cognoscenti, the thought of being caught anywhere near AOL.com -- and possibly Yahoo.com -- is akin to being caught in the library on prom night. How pitifully 2002! But, forget your biases for a minute.
Most of the social media cognoscenti, given a choice of where to aggregate all of their social networking friends, would choose something like Friendfeed. But let's remember that the people who read this column are not most people. Yahoo and AOL both have massive footprints, and probably will for years to come. Maybe, just maybe, they can become legitimate social networking hubs. Open season in social networking has only just begun.