Someday soon, you might be "Mashed" by your friends. Yahoo has leaked information about an alpha version of a new social-networking site it is creating, called Mash, where users can customize each other's profiles.
In a blog posting, team leader Will Aldrich wrote Friday that Mash will be a "new approach to your profile that brings your people together." There are several "twists" in the as-yet-unreleased Mash, he said.
You can make "starter profiles" for your friends, sort of a "first round's on me" approach. You can also leave your own profile open to contributions by friends you trust, and you can decorate your profile or a friend's with modules from a growing gallery of apps.
Your identity is not entirely under the control of other people. Privacy controls allow boundaries to be set, such as restricting who can modify your profile or preventing anyone from doing so, and you can undo any profile changes.
Wiki-Style Social Network
Comments on the Mash blog indicate the profile-customization angle already has some fans asking for more capabilities, even though Mash is still invitation-only. Some commenters have asked for various levels of permissions and viewing. "Every adult has multiple social circles," an anonymous user wrote. "If Mash supports multiprofiles, that will definitely help."
The idea that your buddies' wild additions to your profile could alienate your work friends is a recurring theme among the postings. Changes by multiple people is a risk that community-edited sites such as Wikipedia take. In fact, The New York Times has described Mash's approach as "the Wikipedia version of a social network."
The Times also noted that the still-not-public Mash offers a hand-drawn pet that you can feed and "pet," and modules such as a paddle game played with an image of Karl Marx and a "Wheel of Lunch" game for generating local restaurant choices. The Times noted that outside developers will be allowed to create modules, an opening-up to third-party apps that competing social networking site Facebook is making popular.
Defined by Others
Yahoo's Mash is looking to stand out among social-networking sites, said Forrester analyst Oliver Young. Social sites generally let you create your own profile and "external face," he noted, but Yahoo's Mash is experimenting with letting you be defined by others.
Young said it was "very much up in the air" whether this community-defining angle would work. If it does, he pointed out, other sites could easily copy it.
But Yahoo needs to look for a new angle, he said, because a workable social-networking site has been a chink in the company's armor. Yahoo 360 is going nowhere, Young said, and Yahoo Groups, while popular, doesn't offer the kind of connections that could make it work as a social channel.
In addition to building its own new social network, Yahoo is looking overseas to strengthen its position in this area. Last week, the company announced closer advertising ties with Bebo, a UK-based social-networking site.