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Microsoft Shoots for New Outlook.com Users by Targeting Less

Microsoft Shoots for New Outlook.com Users by Targeting Less

Microsoft's existing Hotmail user base may find plenty to like in its new Outlook.com email service, but getting others to switch will certainly be a challenge. One lure that could draw in the privacy-minded is a diminished focus on targeted advertising relevant to the contents of an email message. Instead, Outlook.com users will often see their contacts' relevant social media posts.

By Erika Morphy
02/20/13 2:44 PM PT

Microsoft has made its new Outlook.com email service generally available, following six months of receiving and incorporating user feedback. The service is ready to scale to a billion people, the company said, and Hotmail users will be shifted over to form the core of that base.

The preview attracted 60 million users who signed in at least several times a month via the Web, a client or a mobile device, the company said.

Getting a Grip on Overflow

Many of the new or upgraded tools on Outlook.com attack the overstuffed in-box problem. For example, newsletters and commercial mail make up some 80 percent of most recipients' email. To help handle that onslaught, Outlook.com has a tool called "Sweep," which moves, archives or deletes specific emails.

Outlook.com also cuts down on the ad noise that is endemic to most public email services, with updates from social media feeds replacing targeted ads in many cases. On average, users see 60 percent fewer ads while reading email, said Microsoft, because they've been replaced by their contacts' relevant Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter posts.

Another feature, SkyDrive, helps people manage and share content such as photos, videos and documents.

In general, if you like Outlook, you will like Outlook.com, Rob Enderle, principal with the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWord. "It is very similar in terms of the layout and the approach."

Hanging Onto Hotmail Users

The beneficiaries of these changes will be Hotmail users, whose accounts will migrate to the new platform in the coming months.

Microsoft designed many of Outlook.com's upgrades with an eye to correcting problems associated with the Hotmail service, said Charles King, principal of Pund-IT.

"I think the company would like to put to bed once and for all any negative associations with Hotmail," he told TechNewsWorld.

The goal no doubt is for Outlook.com to do for Microsoft what Gmail has done for Google -- that is, draw in legions of new users by providing a multifeatured email service, King continued. These users would then be more inclined to adopt other Microsoft products and thus become married to the Microsoft platform.

Whether this approach will work to any great degree is doubtful, said Enderle. Outlook.com is a good -- maybe even great -- platform, but it is not so great that it will prompt users to go through the trouble of setting up a new email account unless they are very upset with their existing service provider.

Email addresses aren't portable, and a person making a change has to notify contacts of the new address and monitor both accounts for some period of time.

That is one reason why Microsoft is emphasizing its social media-instead-of-ads approach, Enderle said. "It is hoping to get people angry enough about this perceived privacy issue to make the shift."

Evolving Skillsets

One hope for Microsoft is that consumers are becoming technologically ambidextrous -- that is, capable of using a number of platforms, products and devices to consume content. Many people are comfortable using more than one email client, even on a daily basis.

Microsoft has come to this realization a bit late in the game, King said, "but it has gotten to this point now and is aggressively positioning itself to be a player in a world where applications and productivity tools are not device- or company-dependent."

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