Yahoo opens IM to external developers

New tools give developers broader access to the service for the first time

Yahoo is opening up its IM (instant-messaging) network so that external developers can extend its functionality with new applications.

On Tuesday, Yahoo will release a new beta version of Yahoo Messenger with Voice, along with software development tools for creating plug-ins for it. The IM beta version will have some plug-ins already installed by default, and allow users to choose others.

Until now, Yahoo has provided APIs (application programming interfaces) that let developers work with its IM network to expose presence and buddy list information on a Web site, for example. However, the new tools give developers broader access to the service for the first time, said a company executive.

"This is the opening of Yahoo Messenger to developers," said Jeff Bonforte, Yahoo's senior director of real-time communication.

Rivals AOL and Microsoft also let third-party developers create applications for their respective IM networks. Internet companies such as Google, AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have in recent years gone out of their way to entice external developers to create applications on top of their products and services. Developers have been particularly keen to build on Google's online mapping service Google Maps.

By letting external developers do these "mashups," Internet companies are able to extend the functionality of their Web sites and networks in ways that may not have occurred to their own programmers. In the case of Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo wants users to add plug-ins to customize the service and increase their interaction and collaboration with other users, Bonforte said.

Among the plug-ins that the Sunnyvale, California, company has already developed is one that integrates the Yahoo Calendar with Yahoo Messenger, he said. From the Yahoo Messenger interface, this plug-in will let users view and manage their calendar, compare it with other users' calendars and query the company's local search and mapping service to find business listings and obtain driving directions.

Also available will be an Amazon.com Inc. plug-in, so that users can share gift wish lists and browse popular and new products. Users can check out plug-ins here. Yahoo expects to have hundreds of Yahoo Messenger plug-ins before the end of the year, Bonforte said.

The Yahoo Messenger developers tools are available to individual developers, as well as to developers working on behalf of a corporation.

The new beta version of Yahoo Messenger will also feature other enhancements, including an increased number of contacts to a maximum of 1,000 and the ability to add sound effects to voice conversations.

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