Yahoo Updates Email Service

In an attempt to keep up with the times, venerable search engine Yahoo updated the features of its free email service. More than just an increase in mailbox size, the new features will offer the estimated 277 million users of the service better interaction with their favorite social networking sites.

Yahoo began testing a new format for its email seven months ago. It lets users update their Facebook and Twitter accounts from within Yahoo’s email boxes. Users will also be able to send larger attachments, up to 100 megabytes. They’ll also notice zippier performance; the overhauled service is supposed to be twice as fast as the old one.

Some of the changes simply put Yahoo’s email offering on a par with other services. For example, the updates include better junk-mail controls and enable users to chat with friends and family who are logged into Facebook. 

“Yahoo!’s vision for online communications brings together all the tools that people use to connect — email, chat, SMS, and social updates — and makes it easier for them to share content and engage in conversations with the people that matter most to them,” said Yahoo Chief Product Officer Blake Irving. “We’re delivering on this strategy with the latest version of Yahoo! Mail, providing our hundreds of millions of users worldwide with a fun, engaging and  constantly connected experience across desktop, mobile and tablet devices that keeps the conversation going – anytime, anywhere.”

Yahoo is rolling out the new features to users over the next few weeks, but those in a hurry can go to overview.mail.yahoo.com to update right away. To provide users with a greater incentive to try out its updated email, Yahoo is giving away a year of free coffee to regular users. You can find the full details here. Basically, if you sign up, you get an entry into the drawing for every seven consecutive days that you sign in to the Yahoo home page, Yahoo Mail, or Yahoo Mobile. It looks as if there will be at least one winner every week through July 15, when the contest ends.

Yahoo’s updates to its email service make a lot of sense in the face of a report on Pingdom that focuses on how important email is to Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Twenty percent – one fifth – of the traffic to Yahoo.com goes to Yahoo Mail. Email is similarly important to both Google and Microsoft.

As with search, Yahoo has seemingly been fighting a losing battle with Google on email. According to comScore, last month, Yahoo retained 277 million email users worldwide, about three million less than the same time last year. That’s a a drop of around one percent. Google’s Gmail service, on the other hand, gained 24 percent over the past year. At 220 million users worldwide, Gmail still boasts fewer users than Yahoo Mail, but if it continues to gain converts at its current rate – 43 million in the past year alone – that won’t last long.

Email users tend to visit a site loyally, which gives the operator of the service a chance to entice them to use other services. Such users also tend to stay logged on when they use these other services. This means that providers can show users more Internet ads, and gives the providers a better idea of which ads to show users. This kind of information is money in the bank for both Yahoo and Google, as these search engines make their money mainly from advertising purchases.

Whether these changes will help Yahoo’s bottom line or market share remains to be seen, however. Despite Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz’s hiring of Blake Irving to revitalize the company’s product line, its stock price remains depressed. It hasn’t been able to attract as many advertisers as Google for a long time. Although Yahoo Mail’s overhaul is both welcome and necessary, it could end up being too little, too late. Time alone will tell.

For more on this topic, visit the Associated Press item on Yahoo News.

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