Yahoo added an RSS reader to its new webmail service, which is in test, or beta, version and available to a limited number of users. The Californian company announced the new feature on Wednesday.

Yahoo's new webmail service, which has a radically redesigned user interface that works more like a typical desktop email application, has been in beta testing since September.

The RSS reader will not be added to Yahoo's current webmail service, which will be replaced at an unspecified time with the new service, company executives said. The company wouldn't say how many users are testing the new webmail service, so it's impossible to establish how many people will get access to the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader on Wednesday. There is no RSS functionality right now in the Yahoo Mail, which is used by the vast majority of Yahoo's users.

RSS technology lets users subscribe to content feeds from their favorite websites and have them delivered to RSS readers such as Ask Jeeves' Bloglines.

RSS feeds have become very popular because they save users from having to visit websites to find out if content has been posted to them. As RSS feeds flow into an RSS reader, a user sees summaries or the full text of postings.

Email has become the hub of people's internet activities, so it makes sense to embed an RSS reader into Yahoo's webmail service, said Ethan Diamond, Yahoo Mail's director of product development.

This is the case for Chaim Danzinger, a New York freelance video editor who uses Yahoo Mail for personal and work communications.

"I like having everything I read on a regular basis accessible from within my mail interface. I believe that in the future, email providers will offer more and more services from within their own interface and I'm happy that Yahoo is leading the way," he said in an interview conducted via email.

Danzinger, who subscribes to about 15 RSS feeds, has been beta testing the Yahoo Mail service since it was made available to him about two months ago. In fact, prior to that, he had stopped using his Yahoo Mail account as his primary address, although he has had it for several years.

Danzinger would like Yahoo to continue folding other of its services into the webmail interface. "That [way] with one login and on one page, I'll have access to all their services," he wrote.

The RSS reader included with Yahoo's beta webmail service is designed to appeal to the average RSS user, which according to Yahoo's internal research subscribes to about six or seven feeds.

Later, Yahoo plans to enhance the Yahoo Mail RSS reader with features such as the ability to organise feeds into sub-folders that will appeal to heavy RSS users who subscribe to many feeds, Diamond said.

The webmail beta's RSS reader is a "full post" reader, meaning it can deliver the full-text of a web posting, including pictures, said Scott Gatz, Yahoo's director of personalisation products.

Yahoo's move is one of the first major steps in the industry to make RSS accessible to the mass market, said Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst.

"It brings RSS to the masses and it lets people take advantage of the strength of RSS as a content distribution platform without them having to even know what RSS stands for," Weiner said. "It behooves Yahoo to get this out to all Yahoo Mail users pretty quickly."

Also on Wednesday, Yahoo plans to announce that its Yahoo Alerts service can now notify users when an RSS feed they subscribe to has been updated.

Yahoo Alerts can notify users via email, the Yahoo Messenger instant messaging service or text messages sent to mobile devices.