Google's Gmail recently changed the face of free email on the Web. Though Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) did supply an answer to Gmail -- which seemed "too little, too late" -- that may be about to change. Yesterday, it came to light that Yahoo! is acquiring a San Francisco-based startup, Oddpost. The purchase will likely help Yahoo! rake in more reasons for users to either sign on or pay up for its premium Web-based mail service.

With Google's popularity in search, it's been a little hard to buy Yahoo!'s "Life Engine" campaign, splattered all over TV and the Web these days. When Yahoo!'s chief operating officer was quoted as saying, "We know where the Internet is going," I have to admit I wondered. Google seemed to be calling the shots, pushing other Internet heavyweights into "me-too" mode, with their hands full just trying to keep up, much less innovate.

Oddpost, till now, has been a fee-based email service, which supplied innovative features to its users. Such features that could muscle up Yahoo!'s email include an interface that is a little bit reminiscent of desktop email applications such as Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Outlook Express. With Oddpost's email, users can drag and drop content to keep it organized. In addition to spam filtering and other common perks, Oddpost boasts the added functionality of news and blog aggregation.

When I commented on Yahoo!'s most recent mail upgrade, my first thought was it didn't bring that much new to the table as compared with Gmail's gigantic amount of storage and search and organization functionality -- all provided free of charge, no less.

However, there could be a more compelling prospect than free, given the right features and tools. If Yahoo! integrates this acquisition quickly, and gets an enhanced email product up live in a timely manner, it could actually give Gmail a run for its money. The features Oddpost brings to the table could truly modernize Yahoo!'s Web-based email, and they might even convince Internet mail cheapskates to pony up for premium versions.

For example, speaking of where the Internet is going, one of Oddpost's most interesting features may be blog aggregation. Despite the fact that, so far, there's very little money to be made in the act of blogging, the practice is starting to take off, with some bloggers having built up loyal followings with little or no formal publicity to speak of.

Just days ago, Yahoo! reported a quarter that wasn't "good enough" for many investors. All eyes are on ways Yahoo! can boost its number of premium-paying subscribers. Building a better email product -- better than Gmail and better than its own current offering -- is an important move in that direction.

What do you think of Yahoo!'s acquisition of Oddpost? Talk to other Fools about whether this strategy will goose Google on the Yahoo! discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.