Social Networking

Yahoo’s New Social Net Lets Users Tweak Each Other’s Profiles

Yahoo is beta testing a new social networking site that, among other things, allows users to annoy their friends.

One of the unusual features of the new service — currently called “Mash” and available by invitation only — is the way it lets members fool around with other members’ profile pages. In fact, according to a Yahoo blog about the site, people can take it upon themselves to create “starter profiles” for friends without them even knowing it.

While these types of shenanigans would certainly cause problems in the real world — imagine somebody painting your house chartreuse without your approval — Mash gives users the ability to accept or reject any profile changes made by their friends. It also allows them to bar anybody from messing around with a profile whatsoever.

A New Approach

Mash will be “a new approach to online profiles,” said Will Aldrich, the head of the site development team. While he assured prospective Mashers that they’ll find the site easy to understand if they’ve been involved with other online profile services, Aldrich said Yahoo’s latest foray into the field includes “some new twists that make things a little interesting and, we think, a lot of fun.”

Yahoo will be offering a “growing gallery” of modules, such as photos and games, which can be used by those owning a profile, or their friends, to customize the sites, he said.

Aldrich’s blog is the only official acknowledgment by Yahoo that Mash exists. He is careful to warn those who get invited that the site is far from ready for prime time.

“One last note before you jump in: Mash is still pretty raw — there are bugs and we haven’t gotten to several of the features it really should have,” wrote Aldrich.

He asked those who are experimenting with Mash to leave suggestions and comments on the blog site, in his Mash profile or on the Mash suggestion board. “We’re listening,” assured Aldrich.

More Fun than 360

Most of the comments posted in reaction to Aldrich’s blog entry were requests for invitations. A number voiced concern that Yahoo would be abandoning its current social networking service, Yahoo 360. While Yahoo 360 is still up and running, Yahoo reportedly is unhappy about its level of success, and some observers suggest the service, while useful, just wasn’t much fun.

Yahoo seems to be banking heavily on the fun aspect with Mash and it hopes the surprise factor of friends having access to each other’s profiles — Wikipedia fashion — will be the spark. The New York Times labeled Mash “The Social Network for Graffiti Lovers.”

Invitations to the network are likely to come from existing members who already created a Mash profile of the person they’ve invited, Aldrich explained.

“When a friend invites you, he or she can also add or edit different parts of your profile even before you get to view it,” wrote Aldrich. “So even though you have never made or seen this profile, it is in fact yours. Until you decide to keep it, the profile created for you will not be visible to the Mash network, nor will you appear in the contacts of your friends.”

Eyes of the Beholder

As anybody who’s ever had their shrubbery covered with toilet paper on the night before Halloween can attest, good-natured teasing can often be perceived as annoying vandalism or worse. Gartner Research Director Elroy Jopling is one person who wonders if the Mash idea will backfire for that reason.

“It’s the old expression, ‘It’s not what you write, it’s what people read. It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear,'” Jopling told TechNewsWorld. “Interestingly, when you get into that kind of social interacting, you may have your own interpretation of what you say, write or portray, but the person who sees it can have a totally different interpretation.”

While the Mash idea is somewhat “dangerous” and leaves “a lot of room for abuse,” Jopling said he believes it could succeed.

“It’s so easy to come in on something like that, depending on what your age is,” said the analyst. “More than likely, I’m older than the people who be doing that. My perspective is … it would be kind of intrusive. But to the generation who may be doing it, it could be a different situation altogether.”

The Young and the Goofy

Yahoo is in dire need of a social network, said IDC analyst Karsten Weide. The fact that Mash might be attractive to silly young people is a good thing, he said.

“I could see how that could be attractive to the prime target audience,” Weide told TechNewsWorld. “We believe the trick to get a successful social network up is to really target youngsters. Then, later, you open the service to older demographics. We believe Yahoo direly needs a big social network. Yahoo 360 does have a lot of users but not a a whole lot of traffic, and the same goes for Windows Live Spaces.”

Weide said IDC believes social networks “will be the key component of any Web-based service in the future because users increasingly expect any Web-based service to have social networking functionality.”

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