Yahoo!'s Not-So-Dormant Social Network

A lot of the attention on Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) during this week's Consumer Electronics Show has revolved around its mobile search enhancements. Making its wireless landing page more useful is neat. Opening up its platform to third-party widgets -- a move that has already inspired Web magnets like News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) to develop apps for Yahoo! mobile services -- is great.

However, I'm with MarketWatch's Therese Poletti and Dan Gallagher in pointing out that the coolest Yahoo! enhancements are actually taking place in Yahoo! Mail. In reviewing CEO Jerry Yang's presentations, their article talks about how Yang demoed the arrangement of a dinner outing with friends through Yahoo! Mail.

He was able to pull the email addresses of five friends out of his contacts list. That's an existing feature, of course. However, from there he was able to delve into the dining preferences from each friend's MySpace profile page and use Yahoo!'s mapping features to find a convenient place to eat that would please everyone's tastes.

This reminded me of Yahoo! President Susan Decker's comments over the summer, when she referred to the 250 million Yahoo! Mail accounts as a "dormant social network" just waiting to be awakened.

Yahoo! Mail is a workhorse. Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Hotmail may be time-tested and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Gmail is the slick, relatively new kid on the block, but Yahoo! Mail is still a juggernaut that has been tricky to monetize.

It's not quite like serving up search-engine results, where users' queries can direct them somewhere else. Users zip in to Yahoo! Mail to check their inboxes and then zip out on their own terms.

Making Yahoo! Mail a stickier application -- one that can inspire new solutions and search queries within Yahoo! Mail itself -- would be huge.

I guess that's why I'm not ready to give up on Yahoo!, despite the past few years of abysmal financials. If this "dormant social network" is really opening its eyes, look out, world.

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