Yahoo revises Web mail: social networking, content-based ads, still no free downloading
At midnight, Yahoo introduced a redesigned version of its Web-mail site, Yahoo Mail. And then a funny thing happened: Nothing. No Twitter chatter, no Facebook comments by friends, no late-night posts on the usual tech blogs.
The Internet can be so cruel sometimes.
But it can also be perceptive: Yahoo's relaunched Web mail--available at features.mail.yahoo.com--probably won't have veterans of its older interface feeling terribly lost.
But if you ask a randomly-chosen Yahoo Mail user what's new about the site, you're more likely to hear "it's purple"--the new design echoes the eggplant hue of mobile versions of Yahoo's service.
It does feel a little faster to log in (see Yahoo's developer blog for reasons why), but searches took about the same time, as measured with a stopwatch application.
Just like before, Yahoo Mail greets you with a "What's new" page that doesn't show your inbox, instead highlighting news headlines and social-networking updates. You can now add Facebook and Twitter updates to this menu, but the crowded page only leaves room to view six tweets at a time.
Worse yet, the instant-messaging invitations that the old interface hid behind tabs--all spam, in my recent experience--now pop up in front of the rest of the page.
Composing, reading and organizing messages all work mostly as before. Although you can view Flickr and Picasa slideshows and watch Flickr and YouTube clips from inside the Yahoo Mail window, the site doesn't make attaching your own media any easier--it has no answer to Gmail's elegant drag-and-drop file-attachment interface.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., firm's blog posts don't mention another change to Yahoo Mail: Like Google's Gmail, it now indexes the contents of your messages to try to present more relevant advertising. A FAQ explains how that works and how to turn it off--an option unavailable at Gmail.
(The ads I saw this morning showed none of the sometimes-alarming specifity of Gmail ads. I'll consider that a feature, not a bug.)
With this update, Yahoo again failed to catch up to AOL, Gmail and Microsoft's Hotmail by allowing users to download their messages to their computers using free, standard mail protocols. If you want to back up your Yahoo Mail, you'll still have to pay $19.99 for a Yahoo Plus account or muck around with third-party tools.
Until the company lets me take my data with me, I can't see using my Yahoo Mail account as something more than a throwaway address for site registrations. Can you? What's your read on the new features?
| October 27, 2010; 6:31 AM ET
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