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Yahoo! begs world+dog for free engineering

'Opens' code for social networking's dying breath

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After announcing last week that it will lay off 1,400 employees, Yahoo! managers have birthed a new strategy that could recoup much of its soon-to-be-lost engineering talent: Get somebody else to do the work for free.

Today, the Sunnyvale-based stagnant engineer pond officially released what it's calling Yahoo! Open Strategy (Y!OS) 1.0, an "open platform" allowing third-party developers to build applications that tap into existing Yahoo! user data. For your own safety and that of others around you, please try to contain your excitement.

This new API allows programmatic access to things like Yahoo! Movies ratings or the Yahoo! Mail address book. Yahoo's expectation is that things will go back to the way they used to be and entrepreneurs will once again be able to find investment money for social networking applications. Once this time shift happens, Yahoo! can provide the tools and data to build the next Facebook and will be handsomely rewarded with a heaping helping of relevance.

In the name of abstractions that are just far enough removed from what you're familiar with to be irritating, Yahoo! intends for us to access social data by the Yahoo! Query Language, which is similar to SQL. You can think of the different social data sources as tables and issue SELECT statements like this:

SELECT * FROM social.profile WHERE guid in (SELECT guid FROM social.connections WHERE owner_guid=me)

In the rest of the world, we'd call that a JOIN, but Yahoo! marches to the beat of a different drum. Interfacing with Yahoo's servers is done via REST, which is the flavor of the month when it comes to web APIs.

To distribute your application on Yahoo! properties, you use the Yahoo! Application Platform, which defines a set of specialized tags to format your program's output, and Yahoo will render the actual HTML on their servers. If this sounds a little convoluted, it is: Sandboxing someone else's code is a fun project for Yahoo engineers, but the utility of it is questionable.

Releasing an interface like this allows the Big Y to tap the outside talent pool without paying it, which is an ingenious strategy for a company that's about to dump 10 per cent of its workforce. While we don't yet know what groups are going to be hardest hit by the layoffs, it's fairly obvious from this announcement that the Department of Coming Up With Shit To Do will be suffering serious losses.

Opening up the data is one of the horsemen of the apocalypse for Yahoo!, showing definitively that while they may have good engineers on staff, they have nobody capable of directing them. In a canned statement, likely-still-employed Yahooligan Jay Rossiter said, "This is very much an initial release. But we’re anxious to see what developers out there have up their sleeves and what you’ll do with it."

Which, roughly translated, means "There are probably bugs and inconsistencies in this, but that shouldn't stop you from helping to make the world remember that we still exist." Some developers will likely take advantage of this opportunity, but what remains to be seen is how many of them monetize their new product with Google AdSense.

You can learn more here. ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

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