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Google Adds 11 More Deal Sites to its Google Offers Network

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Google has been quietly expanding its network of parters for its daily deals service Google Offers since it first launched last year. Today, the company is announcing that 11 new partners are joining its platform. These new partners are 8Moms, APDailyDeals, AT&T Interactive, Boston.com, DailyDeals.com, DoubleTakeDeals, Half Off Depot, Morgan’s Deals, Savored, Signpost and Urban Dealight. In addition, Google also announced that it is bringing it "full slate" of partners to Austin, Houston, Philadelphia and Miami today.

Out of the 40 cities where Google offers is currently available, customers in 23 of these now get offers from the company's partners in addition to Google's own offers.

In its announcement, Google explicitly acknowledges that in order to bring its users the best deals, it needs to work with partners. At the same time, though, it's also clear that these smaller niche sites need bigger partners to have any chance in succeeding in a market that is dominated by Groupon and LivingSocial.

Maybe the most interesting of these new partners is Signpost (which, it is worth noting, is partly funded by Google Ventures). The company sets up online stores for small businesses and also works with its customers to set up daily deal campaigns.



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Smart Move: Groupon Teams Up With Expedia to Launch Travel Deals Site

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Groupon today launched the newest addition to its group buying site: Groupon Getaways – a travel-focused deals site that’s powered by Expedia. There are, of course, already a number of similar sites on the market, with LivingSocial Escapes being one of the market leaders.

Thanks to its partnership with Expedia, though, Groupon will be in an extremely advantageous position to rival all of the other sites that took the basic Groupon model and applied it to travel before Groupon itself got a chance to do so.

Take this recent LivingSocial Escapes deal for a hotel in Mexico, for example. It’s a good deal and I’m sure LivingSocial will make some money off it, but given that nobody is going to drive to Cabo San Lucas, LivingSocial won’t make a dime of the travel arrangements that its users make to actually make use of this deal. Groupon and Expedia, on the other hand, can offer users a full-service travel service that doesn’t just include the deal, but also transportation to the location and tickets for local events and sights. Besides the money Groupon makes on selling these deals then, it could also get affiliate fees for when its users book their flights, for example.

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Microsoft Wants to Make Emails More Interactive: Partners with LivingSocial, Netflix, Posterous and Others

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Microsoft wants to make emails more interactive and turn them into something akin to small web apps. Today’s emails mostly consist of static text or HTML and, for the most part, this has not changed much since the advent of the modern Internet. Theoretically, you could run interactive elements inside an HTML email with the help of JavaScript and other web technologies, but for security reasons, virtually every online and offline email client does not allow this. Because of this, when you open your daily LivingSocial email, the message can’t include an interactive widget that tells you how much time you have left to buy or if a deal is already sold out.

Microsoft wants to change this, however, and is partnering with LivingSocial, Netflix, LinkedIn, Orbitz, Monster and Posterous to bring interactive elements to their emails when they appear in Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail service.

Dharmesh Mehta, the director for Windows Live product management, will officially unveil this new functionality at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco today.

Microsoft first piloted this project with Monster, starting in December 2010. LinkedIn is currently also piloting these enhanced emails, while Posterous and LivingSocial are in the process of finalizing their implementations. Netflix’s support is still a bit further out.

Making Email More Productive

I talked to Dan Lewis, a senior product manager on the Hotmail team, earlier last week, and he explained that Microsoft’s reasoning behind this project is to make email more productive. Active Views in Hotmail were among the first steps in this direction (active views allow you to see videos, Flickr galleries and package tracking information right inside of Hotmail’s web interface).

Today, 90% of emails that arrive in Hotmail inboxes include links (though some are surely just links to privacy notices and similar content in the footer of a message and aren’t likely clicked upon by the service’s users). Hotmail’s Active Views feature addresses some of these, but to interact with most of the content in today’s email messages, users still have to go to another website.

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“The message is the application”

As Lewis told me, “it’s time for a new kind of email that allows you to do more from the message itself.” The idea here is to turn emails into something akin to web apps themselves (“the message is the application,” as Lewis put it when I talked to him).

In practice, this means that when you open up an enhanced email from Posterous about a comment on your blog, for example, the message can display all the current comments (including those that arrived after the email was sent!) and provide you with a dialog that allows you to reply to the comment.

For Netflix, this system would allow you to see the most recent recommendations for your Instant Queue, for example, no matter how old the email is – and add movies to your queue right from the message without ever leaving Hotmail.

Security

In the long run, Microsoft hopes to open this system up for any email sender, but for the time being, it’s working with the small number of partners to pilot this system. A little piece of information that these partners add to the message header tells Hotmail that a special version of the email is available for display in Hotmail.

As I mentioned above, the main reason for banning these features from virtually all modern email systems today is security. To ensure that the emails that arrive in Hotmail are safe, Microsoft actually sandboxes the code and isolates it, so that it can’t harm a user’s machine. In addition, it checks who the sender is and will only display these messages when they come directly from the source. Because of this, these interactive elements won’t show up if you forward a message to a friend, for example. Hotmail’s servers also inspect the message to ensure that there is no malicious code in there and users will have to enter their security credentials for the respective service the first time they open one of these messages.

Standards?

For the time being, this is obviously a Hotmail-only feature. There is currently no standard for displaying this kind of information within emails yet. While Lewis acknowledged that “there is definitely an interest to turn this into a standard,” he also admitted that different services will likely take different approaches to add these kinds of features to their clients.



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