Web Watch

Early Version Of Yahoo 360 Confusing All Around

By Leslie Walker
Sunday, April 3, 2005

It's a blog. It's a dog. No, it's Yahoo 360!

What is this service Yahoo unleashed on Tuesday, anyway?

Yahoo says it's designed to help you stay in touch with existing friends, not introduce you to strangers. But it feels a lot like Friendster and other social networking sites, with the addition of a blogging tool, a smattering of traditional Yahoo content and two odd new text-messaging tools.

Yahoo's service (360.yahoo.com), released to a limited number of beta testers, lets people create personal online sites to share content with their friends and family members, such as photos, blogs, Yahoo music and movies they liked, Yahoo Groups they belong to, and restaurant reviews they've written in Yahoo Local (are you getting the idea that this is about promoting Yahoo?).

"Think of this as a My Yahoo page with your friends," said Julie Herendeen, Yahoo's vice president of network products.

Here's how it works: When you sign in, Yahoo automatically creates a personal page for you, along with a blog if you care to write in it, a friends page listing people you've chosen to connect with, and lists of your favorite things.

Communicating with Yahoo 360 buddies, though, is so multi-layered that it might give you an Internet migraine. In addition to sending instant messages via Yahoo's instant messenger (there's no support for more popular IM services from AOL or Microsoft), you can use two new communication channels. One lets you zap e-mail-like notes to pals. The other can "blast" short notes that your friends will see on their Yahoo 360 pages in a cartoonish bubble next to your photo.

Confused yet? There's more. Perhaps the most bewildering part of Yahoo 360 is an innovation around privacy -- multi-layered access controls that let you decide which groups of your friends get to view which pieces of your content. Setting these viewing controls is a two-step process. First, you categorize your friends by "tagging" them with key phrases describing your connection to them, such as "colleagues," "church," "golf" or "close friends." Next, for each type of content you publish, you specify which group gets access. You might restrict viewing of your blog, say, to only "close friends."

For now, the trial version doesn't let people share much content, except in tightly formatted blogs and a few rigidly defined categories, including lists limited to music, books, TV shows and personal interests. The "local reviews" feature, giving you the option of having Yahoo Local reviews you have written show up on your home page, doesn't let you pick what reviews appear. Moreover, its prominent placement on your home page suggests Yahoo is making a not-so-subtle push for its yellow-pages service.

That's hardly surprising, since the service has no advertising or immediate plans to add any. For now, Herendeen said, Yahoo is seeking user feedback about how to make the service more useful. Also for now, Yahoo 360 (which Yahoo came up with that Big Brotherish name?) requires an invitation to join.



E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company