Yahoo’s decision to open up its email API is great news for web mail users and is a great example of what Web 2.0 is about. How long will it be before a major retailer like Tesco follows suit?

How is it that after 12 years of using the Web I still can’t attach a photo to an email in Hotmail?

Following the recent birth of my son, I found myself struggling with my partner’s Hotmail account in order to spread the happy news. Having spent much of the previous day researching Web 2.0 technologies for use with my online court bookings software for squash and tennis clubs, the shockingly poor Hotmail interface hit me like a sledgehammer.

Hotmail is an extreme example of what is true of most web-based application interfaces, namely that they are largely designed by developers who are not particularly interested in usability.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Hotmail interface, I have two gripes.

Firstly you don’t seem to be able to attach an image without downloading an ActiveX control, which IE 6 blocks. Then when you click to download the control it sends you back to the previous page. After going round in circles a few times I thought I’d try just attaching them as files, but for some reason they did not attach properly with the file data appearing in the body of the email.

Before I could send out the good news, I had to select my recipients. Easier said than done though as multi-select was not allowed from the contacts box and I had to select each person one by one and add them to the email… who knows how many people I have missed?

Ajax allows web applications to move away from tedious, synchronous, interfaces. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the code to power drag-and-drop tools provided by sites such as will soon mean browser based applications that are as good if not better that their windows counterparts.

By opening up its API, Yahoo is providing a platform for Ajax developers to show what they can do and I’m quite sure they’ll raise the bar, not just for web mail but for web applications in general.
It all adds up to a very smart move, as Yahoo embraces the core fundamentals of Web 2.0. Offering its core competency (email storage and delivery) as a web service they allow other companies to use their skills to add value around it (something that is apparently called a “mash-up” in Web 2.0 speak). At the same time it is bypassing what I am sure are long development cycles and allowing its users to get the latest interface technologies far sooner than they would otherwise.
Companies need to ask what core competencies they could offer as a service for others to add value to. It’s only a matter of time before major retailers like Tesco follow suit and produce a programmer’s interface (API). It’s the natural extension to affiliate schemes and will make online shopping both more fun and easier.

If Web 1.0 was about information, Web 2.0 is about application.