Today Yahoo is releasing the new Ajax-powered version of Yahoo Mail to all users in the US and across 18 international markets. I spoke to Ethan Diamond, director of product management for the new Yahoo! Mail, to talk about the product. Ethan was previously the founder of Oddpost, a pioneer in Ajaxian web email, which got acquired by Yahoo in July 2004 - so he is the perfect person to speak to when it comes to web email.
The new features include an integrated calendar timeline (including mashups with Yahoo Maps), drag and drop e-mail organization, message preview, tabs for messages, plus an integrated RSS reader. There are also plenty of links to other Yahoo properties, such as this one just above the inbox: "Start your own blog here" (which leads to Yahoo360).
In my testing of the product, my favorite feature so far is a seemingly simple - yet surprisingly effective - one: the ability to have multiple e-mail messages open at the same time using tabs. Given that I virtually live in my email inbox and often am conducting a few email conversations at a time, this feature comes in very handy!
Runs like a desktop email app
The new Yahoo Mail Beta will function more like a desktop client application - including using the traditional 3-pane view, having folders, drag and drop, and so on. Some would argue that web-based email requires a different UI paradigm than a desktop client - for example Gmail's "conversation view" and labels instead of folders are two features that I love.
When I asked Ethan why Yahoo continues with the desktop UI paradigm, he told me that they've "taken the best parts of the desktop mail paradigm and applied them to the Web" and that users have become accustomed to those features in an email client.
It's a slick web email product and the desktop UI does seem to work very well. Personally I'll stick with my Gmail though, as I've grown very accustomed to the Gmail UI paradigm ;-)