Yahoo adds RSS reader to its new Web mail service

Yahoo has added an RSS reader to the beta version of the new Yahoo Mail.

Yahoo is adding an RSS reader to its new Web mail service, which is in test, or beta, version and available to a limited number of users. The Sunnyvale, California company plans to announce the new feature on Wednesday.

Yahoo's new Web mail service, which has a radically redesigned user interface that works more like a typical desktop e-mail application, has been in beta testing since September.

The RSS reader will not be added to Yahoo's current Web mail service, which will be replaced at an unspecified time with the new service, company executives said. The company wouldn't say how many users are testing the new Web mail service, so it's impossible to establish how many people will get access to the new RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader on Wednesday. There is no RSS functionality right now in the Yahoo Mail, which is used by the vast majority of Yahoo's users.

RSS technology lets users subscribe to content feeds from their favorite Web sites and have them delivered to RSS readers such as Ask Jeeves' Bloglines.

RSS feeds have become very popular because they save users from having to visit Web sites to find out if new content has been posted to them. As RSS feeds flow into an RSS reader, a user sees summaries or the full text of postings.

E-mail has become the hub of people's Internet activities, so it makes sense to embed an RSS reader into Yahoo's new Web mail service, said Ethan Diamond, Yahoo Mail's director of product development.

This is the case for Chaim Danzinger, a New York freelance video editor who uses Yahoo Mail for personal and work communications.

"I like having everything I read on a regular basis accessible from within my mail interface. I believe that in the future, e-mail providers will offer more and more services from within their own interface and I'm happy that Yahoo is leading the way," he said in an interview conducted via e-mail.

Danzinger, who subscribes to about 15 RSS feeds, has been beta testing the new Yahoo Mail service since it was made available to him about two months ago. In fact, prior to that, he had stopped using his Yahoo Mail account as his primary address, although he has had it for several years.

Danzinger would like Yahoo to continue folding other of its services into the Web mail interface. "That [way] with one login and on one page, I'll have access to all their services," he wrote.

The RSS reader included with Yahoo's beta Web mail service is designed to appeal to the average RSS user, which according to Yahoo's internal research subscribes to about six or seven feeds.

Later, Yahoo plans to enhance the Yahoo Mail RSS reader with features such as the ability to organize feeds into sub-folders that will appeal to heavy RSS users who subscribe to many feeds, Diamond said.

Currently, users can drop feed postings into folders, but they can't create sub-folders.

However, some beta testers, such as Gregory Devine, a consulting software engineer from New Jersey, are already wishing for this ability to categorize feed postings more granularly.

Devine, who has been using Yahoo Mail for about six years for personal communications, said in an e-mail interview that the integrated RSS reader is "very useful" and "a great first step."

Until now, Devine has been using Yahoo's My Yahoo personal home page service to manage his RSS feeds, but plans to switch to the Yahoo Mail reader.

But he regularly monitors more than 30 RSS feeds, and he foresees adding more, because of the convenience of having the integrated Yahoo Mail RSS reader. Consequently, he's looking forward to a more robust capability to file feed postings into folders and sub-folders.

The Web mail beta's RSS reader is a "full post" reader, meaning it can deliver the full-text of a Web posting, including pictures, said Scott Gatz, Yahoo's director of personalization products.

Yahoo's move is one of the first major steps in the industry to make RSS accessible to the mass market, said Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst.

"It brings RSS to the masses and it lets people take advantage of the strength of RSS as a content distribution platform without them having to even know what RSS stands for," Weiner said. "It behooves Yahoo to get this out to all Yahoo Mail users pretty quickly."

Also on Wednesday, Yahoo plans to announce that its Yahoo Alerts service can now notify users when an RSS feed they subscribe to has been updated.

Yahoo Alerts (http://alerts.yahoo.com) can notify users via e-mail, the Yahoo Messenger instant messaging service or text messages sent to mobile devices.

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