Hotmail's Active Views Get More Active

When Microsoft rolled out its major Hotmail upgrade last year, one big new feature was Active Views -- the ability for Hotmail to do stuff such as as display Hulu videos and Flickr slideshows right in your inbox, as well as identify e-mails with shipping-service tracking numbers in them and show the package's status. Today the company is announcing some additional Active View capabilities that let Web companies produce e-mails that behave a whole lot like Web pages. The idea, as before, is to let Hotmail users take action on e-mails without having to hop out of Hotmail at all.

Microsoft briefed me on the news and shared some annotated images of how this works. For instance, Netflix has created e-mails that let Hotmail users browse through new titles and add them to their Watch Instantly queues without having to go to the Netflix site...

LinkedIn has e-mails that let you view and accept new connections...

...and Posterous has an Active View that allows you to see up-to-date comments on your posts and respond.

Groupon competitor LivingSocial also worked with Microsoft to build e-mails that automatically tell you when a particular deal has expired.

If you use Hotmail and get e-mails from any of these companies, you probably won't see the Active View-enabled e-mails right away: The companies are still testing the new functionality. (They need to design e-mails that are smart enough to display Active Views to Hotmail users, and static versions to everybody else.) But it looks cool.

Of course, it would be cooler still if e-mails of this sort worked in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and other e-mail clients, too-and if they did, more companies would presumably invest the time in creating them. Microsoft says that the technology it's built is Hotmail-only for now, but that it plans to open it up at some unspecified point in the future, allowing Google, Yahoo, or any other interested party to support Active Views. I hope that it, or something like it, does indeed become a standard; anything that lets you get more done in e-mail with fewer clicks is good news.

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