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Microsoft wades into interwebulator chat about Hotmail

Why aren't we as good as Gmail?

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Microsoft is really keen to know what people think about Hotmail – even though it probably already knew most of the answers would be less than pretty.

In an effort to explain its much-criticised web-based email service, the software giant asked members of the Reddit.com news aggregation site to respond to an “ask-me-anything” thread about Hotmail yesterday.

“You may be a long-time Hotmail user, or you may have had Hotmail as a first account and haven’t come back in quite a while. We get it. We’re Hotmail engineers and product managers and today we’ll be hanging out here from noon-3 PST,” wrote the company yesterday.

“We’ve released a bunch of new code over the past 6 months and we’d love your feedback and questions on it – even if you don’t use Hotmail we’d like to hear from you. What do you think about what we’ve done and what would you like to see in your inbox in the future?”

The grilling is now over, but the questions that piled into the thread do a good job of showing how little love there is out there among the tech-savvy crowd for Hotmail.

Indeed, the top-rated question put to Microsoft was one about getting the firm to provide a compelling reason as to why emailers should quit Google’s Gmail in favour of Hotmail, which lest we forget remains the most popular online email service to date with 350 million people.

Reddit users also wanted to know why Hotmail remained bereft of well-known email protocols for syncing the service with mobile gadgets and email apps. Many more complained about Hotmail’s user interface.

“Yes, terrible UI,” commented one Reddit user with the handle ‘tipu’. “I couldn't figure out how to change my password after looking for several minutes. I ended up having to google ‘hotmail change password’ and use a url that was returned as a result to change the pw.”

The Hotmail team responded to quite a few of the questions on the thread and at the end of the process defended its position on email protocols.

“We haven't implemented IMAP since based on the user feedback and usage data, there isn't a large enough need when you look at the other protocols we provide. For mobile – we believe ActiveSync is the best story.

“It gives you mail, calendar, and contacts. There is big adoption of the protocol here with Android, iPhone, and Windows mobile. For clients – with the outlook connector, windows live mail client, and pop3, we cover the majority of client scenarios.

“There are definitely some gaps, but not enough to outweigh the cost. One of the tough trade-offs we make,” said Microsoft.

Interestingly, the company also commented on Hotmail’s ability to stop spam, which is something many users of the service have grumbled about for years.

Microsoft said that a staggering 35 per cent of email arriving in Hotmail inboxes in 2006 was spam.

The Hotmail team claimed yesterday that the figure had fallen to four per cent, but the image of the service being a glorified spam machine still holds for many.

It doesn’t help that long-term users of Hotmail might be worse off when it comes to spam.

“In addition to the spam filtering effectiveness of the service, the amount of spam a particular account receives also depends on the age of the account, the account usage and other factors associated specifically with the user.”

Microsoft’s decision to engage online with Hotmail fans and enemies suggests that the software vendor is taking note that its online email service, which has undergone a major makeover in the past year, still needs a lot of love. ®

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