By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 9:19 am
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.