Gmail People Widget Takes On Rapportive, Xobni

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Your Gmail account will soon have a new feature that summarizes important data about your e-mail contacts, including a list of recent messages, shared documents, calendar events, and even Buzz posts.

Called the people widget, the new feature gives you quick access to the information you need to make your e-mail sessions more productive. Gmail's new people widget will sit to the right of the message view (not your inbox view). Each e-mail conversation will display data for all the people included in the message. Gmail's new people widget will be rolling out to all users over the next two weeks, according to a Google blog post.

Handy People Widget

With Gmail's people widget enabled, whenever you open an e-mail message you will see a sidebar to the right of your message displaying important data about the people included in the e-mail message.

People widget (click to enlarge)
Among the data will be recent e-mail messages, shared Google Docs, related calendar appointments, and Buzz posts. Also to be listed are shortcut links to compose a new e-mail, set a calendar appointment, start a phone call using Gmail's voice calling feature, or IM via Google Chat. If you have a message open with multiple contacts, you will see similar options for each person as well as a group IM option.

I haven't been able to try out Gmail's people widget yet, but the concept is similar to other products I've used such as the Rapportive add-on for Gmail and Xobni for Outlook. If people widget works similarly to these products, the new Gmail feature should save you time by removing the need to search for documents, recent messages, or other related data.

It's not clear if people widget will also prioritize messages that have attachments associated with a certain person. Say, for example, your mother sent you a bunch of photos via Gmail a year ago or your boss sent you a new contract six weeks ago that you forgot to sign. It would be handy if Gmail automatically retrieved messages like these so you could quickly access old attachments.

The people widget also doesn't appear to support social networking integration with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, a feature that both Rapportive and Xobni have. But it's likely that Google will expand the new feature over time.

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