Microsoft pilots Active Search in mail

Microsoft is piloting sponsored ads in its free email client currently in beta and earmarked to be bundled with Vista.

The sponsored links will provide contextual advertising dependent on the content of the email message, which will doubtless sound familiar to the users of Google’s Gmail which pioneered this kind of email advertising.

Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta was announced in March as the replacement for the Outlook Express email client that will be provided free with the Vista operating system when it is released at the end of this year. The new advertising programme is currently being evaluated with a small number of beta testers in the US.

In addition, or perhaps as a sweetener, the sponsored ads are part of what the company is calling ‘Active Search’. While reading your email, Microsoft will display key search terms in the message and provide a search box underneath, so the user can search for their own terms.

Microsoft says that it is possible to switch Active Search off and instead of the sponsored ads, the email client reverts to the right hand skyscraper ad currently displayed. Also mindful of the privacy furore that marked Gmail’s introduction, Microsoft has gone to some lengths to assure users that no human will be reading their email, only the ad servers.

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