Gmail gains 'Web clips' feature

Google has added a feature to Gmail that lets users view links to news articles and RSS feeds within the Web mail program's interface.

Google is adding a new feature to its Gmail Web mail service that lets users display links to various types of Web content, such as news articles and blog entries, according to information posted this week on the What's New section of the Gmail Web site (http://mail.google.com/mail/help/about_whatsnew.html).

Gmail users can customize the new Web Clips feature so that it displays links from RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom syndication feeds or to news articles about specific topics, for example. Web Clips items appear along the top of the Gmail screen.

"Each clip displays the source from which it was received, how long ago the clip was published, and a link to access the entire story or page containing the clip," according to an explanation of the new feature posted in Gmail's help section (http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=18219).

Last week, Yahoo integrated an RSS reader into the new version of its Yahoo Mail Web mail service, which is still in beta and not generally available yet.

Also new in Gmail is its ability to detect addresses and shipment tracking numbers in the text of e-mail messages. Gmail flags these items and gives users the option of mapping the address and getting driving directions, and of checking the shipment's delivery status.

For those uneasy about having the text of their messages scanned, Google clarifies that the automated process is done by computers and not people. "These links are produced automatically for your convenience. No humans read the content of your e-mail in order to generate these links and none of them are sponsored by advertisers," reads an information page about this feature (http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=24102).

When Gmail was first launched in April 2004, Google was harshly criticized for its decision to scan the text of messages in order to run relevant ads along with them. However, Google, like now, explained that the process was done by computers and has kept the practice to this day.

Finally, Gmail now lets users view as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) documents with OpenOffice, Microsoft Office and Adobe Systems PDF (Portable Document Format) file formats. This is convenient for "when you're on a mobile device or you don't want to install some new software just to view a document. Or if you just want to see it faster," according to a note on the What's New section of Gmail (http://mail.google.com/mail/help/about_whatsnew.html).

Gmail is still in beta. To open a Gmail account, users must either request the service from Google by sending the company a text message from a mobile phone or be invited via e-mail by an existing Gmail user.

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