Looking to broaden the appeal of its hosted e-mail and calendaring services, BlueTie on Monday began offering the collaboration services for free. The company also unveiled its new plan for generating revenue via partnerships with third-party business service providers.BlueTie has several patents pending on its new revenue-driving method, according to David Koretz, the company\u2019s founder, president and chief executive officer. Users of its services will now have the option of booking flights with Orbitz and sending and receiving faxes through j2 Global Communications and completing those transactions, all without leaving the BlueTie applications.Koretz dubs the integration of third-party services directly into his company\u2019s collaboration applications "featuretisements." BlueTie and its partners will share the revenue derived from users accessing the services which are designed to appeal to small to midsize businesses (SMBs). He stressed the optional nature of the featuretisements and the fact that BlueTie customers are under no obligation to use them.In a nonbusiness application, a user noting a family member\u2019s birthday in the BlueTie calendaring application could connect directly with an online florist, arrange to have flowers delivered and see the delivery confirmation, all from within the BlueTie service. Koretz also talked about enabling SMBs to place orders with office equipment suppliers from within BlueTie, including the generating of purchase requests. In all, he\u2019d like to offer 15 to 20 featuretisements, potentially including Web conferencing and small-business credit cards."Hosted e-mail services firms have been searching for ways to turn e-mail from a cost center into a profit center," Mark Levitt, vice president of collaborative computing at IDC, wrote in an e-mail interview. So far, consumer portals Yahoo and Google have relied primarily on advertising revenue. But as competition for those advertising dollars grows, the IDC analyst expects "innovative ways" to monetize e-mail like BlueTie\u2019s approach will attract attention from other players in the market.Koretz sees BlueTie\u2019s primary competitor as Microsoft\u2019s on-premise Outlook and Exchange software, with his company firmly focused on the needs of SMBs. In fact, BlueTie serves two segments, he said\u2014the very small-business segment, which typically employs between\u00a0one to 10 staff and behaves much like consumers in its IT purchasing habits, and the larger SMBs, with 11 to 250 employees who tend to be more technologically sophisticated.BlueTie expects to have more than 1 million users of its services later this year, according to Koretz. Already, the company handles 1 billion-plus e-mail messages per month across multiple data centers. The featuretisements focus will be a U.S. initiative initially, given that BlueTie\u2019s sales outside the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of the company\u2019s total revenue, are driven by ISPs, he said.-China Martens, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.