Google makes Gmail social – but not annoying – with people widget

people widgetGoogle’s social strategy has been anything but smooth. Buzz fell just short of disaster, +1 has yet to make any real impact, and Google Profiles effectiveness has yet to be determined. But Google will not (and more importantly cannot) be deterred from bringing a competative social platform to the table. And its latest effort is the new people widget.

The Gmail add-on now brings relevant information about your contacts to the surface. We recently wrote about the depths that Google buries its Social Circle’s data which are mildly concerning and definitely confusing. This new system will purportedly be another big step toward Google being able to connect its social features, which are currently scattered about – taking that layered approach Google’s talked so much about.

Up until now, your Gmail contacts have more or less been useful for e-mail and Gchat purposes only, but now Google is connecting everything users can do with their contacts and putting it in a convenient column adjacent to your inbox. Now under your contacts’ names, you can see your past few e-mail correspondences with them, their Buzz feed (provided people still use that), calendar events they’ve made public (as well as times they’ve marked as free), and any Google docs they’ve shared. It will also, of course, pull information from a person’s Google Profile, most notably a photo and his or her job title.

You won’t only be able to see more information, but you can take action faster. Starting a chat–individual or group–has never been difficult using Gchat, and now it’s easier. Above your contacts and their various data, there are icons for group or individual chat, e-mail, and calendar. And when you begin an e-mail to one of your contacts, Gmail will automatically pull up their information, including the aforementioned previous correspondences, schedules, and the like.

While it’s still  not that big of a Facebook-challenging social platform, the people widget may be the Mountain View giant’s best step in that direction yet. Social search has proved controversial–and at times obnoxious–and trying to out Twitter with Buzz was a failure. But this new application gets it right because it makes something that so many of us use and love – Gmail – better. And it does this without turning it into something it’s not. It’s safe to assume that Gmailers don’t want their e-mail client to turn into Facebook, but Google found a happy medium here to slowly ooze in some social aspects and still keep them relevant to the service itself. It’s also really, really smart: Bringing these various Google applications (docs, calendar, Buzz, etc) to the surface and showing off how your contacts utilize them, Google could easily inspire more Gmailers to make use of its various other apps.

The new tool will be rolling out in the next two weeks, so keep your eyes open for it.

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