Google intends adding a new feature to Gmail that lets users display links to various types of web content, such as news articles and blog entries.

Gmail users can customise 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.

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

Singing the info-automatic

Also new in Gmail is its ability to detect addresses and shipment tracking numbers in the text of email 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 stresses 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 email in order to generate these links and none of them are sponsored by advertisers," the company claims.

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

Gmail also now lets users view as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) documents with OpenOffice, Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) file formats.