I was recently invited to join Yahoo’s new social media platform Mash. I was a little hesitant at first because I am busy with my recently-acquired Facebook profile and just canceled my MySpace account because of too much spam and irrelevant clutter. But, because I wanted to see what Yahoo! would do to differentiate themselves I jumped right in. At first glance your profile page will appear very boring and unsatisfying, especially if you are used to other, more advanced social networks. With nothing else to do, and no friends yet, I started adding as much information as possible and playing with the settings. More on that in a minute.
One of the first things I noticed the default setting that allows any of my friends to alter the appearance and content of MY profile page. No thanks. I appreciate what Yahoo! is trying to do by incorporating deeper connections between friends, but my profile is set up the way I like it, thanks. I tend to trust my friends, but the thought of the kind of annoying damage they could cause around 2:00 AM or while I’m on vacation was enough to make me disable that setting immediately. My cynical side assumes it is meant to keep people coming back more often to make sure nobody has mucked up their hard work. It’ll be interesting to see how people embrace that feature.
That being said, Mash does give its users much more flexibility than Facebook (although not as much as MySpace) over their profiles’ appearance. If you are CSS-savvy you can have almost unlimited flexibility, although changing the standard background image, module color and text color are probably enough for most users. I actually like this feature, because my profile can be changed instantly to reflect my mood, team spirit or any other color scheme I choose. Again, I’m not sure I am ready to give up this level of control to my friends.
Hmmm…friends. This is where I ran into problems. The kind of problems that might deter an unmotivated early adopter from ever returning. Like most social networks, they can mine your existing Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail or Gmail contact lists for people that have alredy signed up for Mash. Or, you can choose to send invitations to anybody that is not already part of the network. As of this morning, none of my Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail contacts were using Mash (most use Facebook and/or MySpace) and the Gmail address book import wasn’t working. Just as well, I wouldn’t spam my entire list of family and friends anyway. I’ll try again in a few days to see if anybody I know has tried out the new social network, but I don’t think it has gained enough popularity or buzz to break into the mainstream yet. There are plenty of ways to invite friends via email, but no way to search all Mash users for people in your area or that share similar interests. This feature could use some work.
Another similarity between Mash and the other networks are the use of modules. Nothing fancy here, they can be dragged around the screen just like Facebook. Thankfully the Module Gallery isn’t completely barren. They did have the foresight to add some basics like Flickr photo sharing, RSS feed displays and silly games. They promise to open it up to module developers in the next few weeks, but I’m sure we won’t see them built as fast as they are for Facebook. All signs point to no revenue sharing, so most widget developers might be dissuaded by the lack of profitability.
All in all, after about 90 minutes of experimentation, I don’t see any reasons to abandon your Facebook or MySpace networks. Other than the ability to alter the appearance of your friends’ profiles, there is nothing revolutionary about Mash. Hopefully they have more planned for the future. I’m sure with Yahoo’s resources it will evolve into a decent-sized network, something on par with Google’s Orkut. Perhaps they can dominate niche markets around the world, but I don’t see enough differentiation or buzzworthiness to de-throne the category leaders here in the U.S.. Not yet anyway. It’s too early to tell, but I wouldn’t recommend sinking any resources into Mash at this time.
I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you feel is different, unique or better about Mash? What can be improved? Where do you think it will go? Leave a comment or contact me if you need an invite.
[UPDATE] Yahoo! has launched a blog to support Mash and allow for communication from their Mash lead, Will Aldrich. The obligatory “welcome to Mash” post can be found here.