A lot of the time, email is either something you delete or something you have to do.
Wouldn't it save time if you could actually do it in your inbox - especially when email is already webmail?
According to Dharmesh Mehta, director of product management for the Windows Live team, 90% of all emails have a link to content elsewhere. So last year Hotmail introduced Active Views for photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube or image files and Office documents to do more with those links.
Instead of clicking the link to open the web site or download the file, you get a preview inside your email - so you can see all the photos as thumbnails or a slideshow and watch the video.
Not having to wait for another site to load means more people look at the content; only 10% of people click links in emails but 25% of the emails with active video content in get clicked to play the video.
US users get shipping notifications that tell them not just that their purchase has shipped but where the parcel is - live in the email, rather than on a web site you have to click through to.
More Active Views
Now LinkedIn, Posterous and Living Social are going to use Active Views for their emails to users. When you get an invitation on Linked In, you'll still have to click to open the LinkedIn site to accept it; but when someone accepts your invitation, if you're on Hotmail the email that tells you you're now connected will show suggestions for other people to connect to that you can dismiss or send invitations for, still inside the email.
LinkedIn plans to use Active Views for more types of connection email in the future.
When someone sends you a message from Posterous to your Hotmail account about one of their photos, you get the image in your email and you can add a comment live inside the email - and see what the other friends who got the same mail earlier have said.
UPDATED: Comment on photos right inside the email that tells you about them - and see all the comments that have been made, even after the email was sent out
Emails from Living Social with the daily deal will show a live countdown of how long you have before the deal expires (and how many other people have bought the deal so far).
If you don't want the offer - or you didn't read the message before it expired - there's a list of other current deals at the bottom of the email and again you can click them to get more details right in the mail message rather than opening up another web page tab to deal with (and for each deal you look at, you get the countdown timer and the number of people who've already paid for that deal). That way, you never decide to take a deal and get disappointed because it's already over.
TICKING CLOCK: Why should email get out of date? Hotmail lets Living Social put a countdown timer next to the deal of the day so you're never wondering if it's still worth shopping
Microsoft is taking advantage of the fact that when you're reading Hotmail on the web, your email is actually a web page, so updating the content inside the email isn't too hard.
And in future, Hotmail senior product manager Dan Lewis suggested to TechRadar, maybe you won't even get a new email from Living Social every day that you have to delete when the deal expires; it could be the same email that gets updated and pops back to the top of your inbox when there's a new deal. There's an idea that might help you get to that mythical 'inbox zero'.
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Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.