Let there be no doubt that Microsoft is not the only company determined to take on Google. Yahoo certainly is too. This plaque for the Yahoo Mail team is controversial not only because it makes quite explicit who Yahoo has in their sights, that they're very serious about winning but also because it draws a parallel between Google and the Nazis. I don't think this was intentional. In fact, as a Brit I'm mildly surprised that the Americans used a British success as an inspirational model. I do think the photograph of the plaque shows just how "dangerous" search engines can be. Information takes on a very different meaning when it leaves a private space, looses it's tone of voice and becomes public domain.
A lot of debate the plaque has kicked up centres around the actual mail offerings from the two providers. Which is better? Right now I use Gmail because I can procmail most of my mail to it and have Google spam filter for me before then popping it back into Outlook. Bliss. Even with popfile (and a well trained orange octopus at that) my mail sorting took ages. I've a paid for Hotmail account too. Mind you, I was on the first (thousand) onto hotmail and will keep the account (despite numerous spam backlashes). By many accounts the new Yahoo mail will be a strong contender too - but how many email addresses do I need?
(And there's a Google tracking code in my link to Popfile because I was lazy, searched for popfile and copied the link location straight from a right-click. You just have to assume that Google filters unexpected referrer information out of its analysis)
One of the wins I believe the search engines can gain from offering great (therefore popular) mail systems is that of language and response analysis. It might be evil for Google to learn about you from the contents of your email. I suspect they'll not be that direct. However, what I believe Google will do is learn which email messages you mark as spam. That's a good way of finding rogue IP addresses or spam advertised URLs. Google must measure the clickthrough and keyword matches for the AdWords which line the side of Gmail's web interface. Whereas Google may not read my email to learn that I spend my free time roleplaying but Google is sure to notice that my Gmail account generates clicks for roleplaying-related keywords.
I welcome personalisation. I really don't mind if Google's machines (Gmachines™) scan my email or watch my surfing habits. I don't do anything with the RPG programming language, for example, nor do I have an interest in Rocket Propelled Grenades. I want my RPG searches to turn up Role-Playing Games.
I suspect too many SEOrs are avoiding personalisation issues because it could be a pain for them. I believe personalisation is an other offering for a good SEM firm to make. I do think the larger search marketing firms are at the advantage here. We can do the proper demographic research (and we do here). Crude reporting tools like WebPosition become pointless (or, at least, much less effective). I would expect more conversation on the forums and in the community about it but I wonder if the "sandbox" of 2006 will be the one in which many SEOrs bury their heads and hide from personalisation. It's easier to talk about funky new email systems and PageRank updates.