Yahoo plans to begin a beta test of a major overhaul of its online calendar Wednesday, a redesign that brings new advertising and social-networking possibilities.
The new site brings a more polished Web 2.0 interface, with drag-and-drop abilities, color-coded entries, Flickr image backdrops, and a slick "zoom" feature that expands a single day's schedule to a usefully large size when browsing in the monthly view. And picking up an ability from No. 2 rival Google Calendar, the new design finally moves beyond the narrow single-user calendar idea of the earlier design.
For example, people can subscribe to others' calendars, such as schedules for sports teams or college courses, and to share calendars publicly or with others who've been invited, said Scott Dietzen, who took over Yahoo's mail and communications business in June.
And through a later upgrade, Yahoo will build in access to the company's Upcoming service to share and find events, he added. This sidebar will show popular local events and--through the "vitality" information Yahoo users can share as part of the Yahoo Open Strategy--the events on the calendars of a person's top social contacts, Dietzen said.
Yahoo Mail is used by about 278 million people each month, but Yahoo Calendar is relatively unknown with 8 million users, according to ComScore's August statistics. If the company is successful with its calendar push, the calendar will narrow that usage gap, making scheduling a more active and useful part of people's online lives.
Usage has been "relatively flat," he said, but "We think we're going to see some very nice growth...I think it's poised to go mainstream. It's the combination of mobile devices and collaborative authoring in terms of publish and subscribe."
Of course, Yahoo doesn't just want to be useful to people: it's under financial pressure, and calendars provide at least in theory a better way to make money. Today's calendar shows ordinary banner advertisements, but the new design offers space on the lower left for advertising promotions. Clicking the link can add an event to the user's calendar, and the advertiser will be able to gauge more precisely how successful the ad campaign is.
"With sponsored events in the calendar, you can do very, very narrow targeting," Dietzen said. "We're trying to strive for ways that help Yahoo monetize, but that enhance the user experience as opposed to detract."
The new beta will be available to a gradually larger subset of subscribers in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Taiwan, and Brazil, though users can sign up at the Yahoo Calendar switch site. The company plans to have the beta version in use globally by the end of the year, but Dietzen wouldn't share when it expects to release the final version.
The new Yahoo Calendar is based on the calendar technology of Zimbra, the open-source e-mail, contacts, and calendar start-up Yahoo acquired in 2007. "This is the first wide-scale deployment of Zimbra technology for Yahoo consumer technology. It won't be the last," Dietzen said.
One benefit of the Zimbra technology is the ability to synchronize with calendars stored with Microsoft's Outlook software, though that won't come until a future version, he added. Also coming is iPhone synchronization, he said.