Google has announced their newest Gmail feature called the people widget which adds a simple small column next to your emails that displays context and information regarding friends and contacts in that conversation, a more advanced version of their recent “Don’t forget Bob” feature offering potentially forgotten contacts.
Over the next week, Google will be rolling out the feature to all accounts and when the widget becomes active, the column will show up when an email is open and reveal all recent emails between you and that person, shared documents, calendar events, Buzz posts and their Google Profile picture along with any Google related information you and that user share. The goal is to give context to each user and have instant access to your relationship with them without having to search endlessly, thus making contact more efficient.
Google Software Engineer Zohair Hyder said, “We think it can be helpful to view relevant information in context, which is why over the next two weeks we’re rolling out a new people widget located on the right hand side of your messages. The people widget surfaces content from friends, family and colleagues that is already available to you but may be hard to find and makes it easier to connect with them.”
Is Google building a social network?
We’ve been asking and watching for years as to how Google would build their social network and the hand they keep playing is a strengthening of their current offering and making their current tools social. With Google +1 button going public as we previously reported to you, they are adding a Facebook-esque endorsement option to the web with all +1s showing up on a Google Profile (thus incentivizing use) and now with all information for users popping up in the sidebar, it will allow many people most comfortable with email to stay there. They can chat and have a record of it, they can schedule appointments and so on without the public eye which is the barrier to entry many avoid when it comes to social media.
So we conclude that Google is not building a competitive social network, it has been one all along and they are releasing features to beef up their current structure to have more social features and to appeal to those afraid of or tired of social media and they are offering deeper context to user relationships. In coming years, you’ll see the ability to tag and catalog photos that will show up within Gmail or Google Profiles and you’ll see the GChat away messages become used more like status updates because let’s face it- this is a Google world and no matter how big or invasive they are, the general public (not just tech junkies) flocks when Google says to.