'You've Got Mail' -- and Ads, Courtesy of Microsoft

It was only a matter of time before advertising found its way onto the desktop.

Microsoft is releasing Active Search today, an automated function that scans users' e-mails and then displays potential search terms related to that e-mail, along with text-based paid search ads.

Active Search is being released within Windows Live Mail Desktop, Microsoft's new e-mail application and is one of the first examples of how the company plans to deliver free ad-supported software to users through its recently launched Live initiative. Currently Live Mail is being used by a select group of users in a controlled beta test.

Like Google's Gmail application, Active Search "reads" the content of users' e-mails automatically and then pulls together a list of keywords. However, unlike Gmail, the new product automatically lists a group of keywords or phrases in the upper right hand corner of its inbox just above a search box. Users, if interested, can click on these keywords or enter searches of their own.

The idea is to allow users to quickly search the Web without having to jump back and forth from their inbox to the Web. "The hope is that this doesn't impede someone reading their e-mail," said Aly Valli, senior product planner, Microsoft adCenter.

News source: Brandweek
Advertisers will have two options to place text ads within Windows Live Mail via Active Search. Paid search text links served by Microsoft's new adCenter product will be displayed when users conduct specific searches. In addition, as users browse through e-mails, contextually relevant ads—served by Microsoft-partner Kanoodle—will be displayed to the right of each message.

Microsoft says they have taken great pains to ensure that consumers' privacy is protected, and that no personally identifiable information is used by advertisers (or Microsoft itself). Of course, Google received significant criticism when it originally launched Gmail a few years ago.

Users of Windows Live Mail will receive an e-mail message explaining in detail just how Active Search works, and they will have the ability to turn Active Search off.

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