Yahoo has begun rolling out a new profile page for its users as part of its 'Yahoo! Open Strategy', a major project to rewire the company's web properties to make them more "open and social".
Described by Jim Stoneham, the company's Vice President Communities, as a "centralized control panel", the new Yahoo! Profiles will let users manage their "identity, activities, interests, and connections across Yahoo! -- and eventually the entire Web". While a unified user profile and friends list across all of Yahoo's offerings - Flickr, Yahoo Messenger, Mail etc. - seems like a no-brainer, Stoneham's reference to a social 'control panel' for the entire Web is far more ambitious and sounds very similar to the thinking behind recent products from Facebook (Facebook Connect), MySpace (Data Availabiliy), Microsoft (Mesh) and Google (Friend Connect).
See also: Powering Facebook’s proverbial brain: your Identity, Social Graph, and Lifestream data
Although each company's implementation differs, the broad concept (often disingenuously dressed up as data-portability) is the same. First, offer users a single place to maintain their profile and manage their social graph (friends list) that can then be synced with third-party sites through a publicly available and secure API. That way any update to your central profile or a new connection added, ripples through to those other social destinations that are linked, and at the same time conveniently locks users into the original source of that data. Secondly, enable certain data to flow back in - any social activity elsewhere on the Web - so that the central profile also acts as a lifestream or social web aggregator. The end result is a kind of 'social control panel' for the web OS, a term that Facebook, MySpace, Microsoft and Google don't actually use, but which Yahoo is actively embracing.