Microsoft is rolling out a new feature in Hotmail that creates interactive e-mails that bring the Web into messages. The update, part of a pilot program with Orbitz and Monster.com, allows those companies to send e-mails that don’t just point users back to a website; they allow users to fill out forms and conducts searches without having to leave Hotmail.
Currently e-mail users often receive HTML ads that direct users back to websites. But the information in the ads can often be out of date by the time a readers uses it, and the task of clicking through to a web site is enough to discourage some users. But by keeping it all in the e-mail, marketers can eliminate one hurdle in engaging users. For example, an Orbitz customer can start browsing for hotel choices from an e-mail. Completing the purchase will apparently still require a visit to Orbitz.com, but much of the hunting will occur in Hotmail.
Microsoft said other partners like Netflix and LinkedIn will also join the program soon, allowing people to manage their Netflix account or accept LinkedIn invitations from their inbox.
It’s unclear how much use non-Hotmail users will get out of this advance or how many companies will be allowed to leverage this tool. For now, only Hotmail users who sign up for interactive emails from the participating companies will receive them. But if Microsoft can prove this is a secure way to bring this functionality to e-mail users without opening them up for attacks, look for other e-mail providers to go down this route.
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