Yahoo opens its address books to outside developers with API

Goal is to let third-party developers build apps that use Yahoo members' contact lists

Yahoo announced the public release Wednesday of a new Address Book application programming interface (API) that enables developers to build new applications by using the address books behind Yahoo Messenger, Go, Mail and others.

The new API, which already is being used by the social networking sites of LinkedIn and Plaxo, will support different third-party applications, such as sending invitations to build social networks or social applications, looking up postal addresses for shipping services for online retail, and providing address "auto-complete" for messaging applications, Yahoo said.

"This new API provides access to one of the largest collections of address books on the Internet," noted Charles Wu, product manager for the address book system, in a blog post. "This means your applications already have a built-in audience. The new Yahoo Address Book API unlocks the relationships that Yahoo members have developed on Yahoo and makes them easy to tap into on your site."

The API supports search, and once a user authorizes a third-party application, developers can easily access that user's address book and look for specific contacts.

With new API, developers can also do the following:

  • Obtain unique identifiers, such as e-mail addresses, to help build a social network.

  • Look up phone numbers for mobile and Short Messaging Service applications.

  • Look up e-mail addresses for content-sharing applications.

    The new API provides access to a user's address book via BBAuth, Yahoo's browser-based authentication. Users authorize an application to access their address-book data through the Yahoo log-in process.

    Joseph Smarr, Plaxo's chief platform architect, wrote in a blog that the new API has made it possible for Plaxo to support bidirectional address-book synchronization between Yahoo and Plaxo.

    "This is another great move from Yahoo, [which] has been showing real leadership in the area of data portability and opening up the social Web," Smarr said. "The next phase of the Web will be enabled by empowering users with control over their data, and the ability to let them use within the tools, services and devices they choose. The Yahoo Address Book API is a great step in that direction, giving users access to their address-book data -- and without having to give up their user name and password to a third-party site."

    Mark Hendrickson, a blogger at TechCrunch, said the API would be more powerful if developers could not only retrieve basic contact information from Web mail services such as Yahoo Mail but could also determine the type of relationship a user has with those contacts.

    "For example, if I wanted to pull out a user's top five contacts, I could do so by looking at the frequency of messages sent to all contacts," Hendrickson noted. "This lookup could be refined by targeting only messages with certain keywords so that contacts belonging to particular categories (say, golf enthusiasts) could be identified by their messages. Unfortunately, no such advanced querying is available with Yahoo's new API, at least to start."

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    Heather Havenstein

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