Google is rolling out a new feature for Gmail: the people widget. The feature will summarize recent data from contacts included in the e-mail message such as recent e-mails, documents shared in Google Docs, or related events on Google Calendar. The Gmail People Widget sounds cool...and familiar.
My PCWorld peer Ian Paul draws comparisons to third-party add-ins like Rapportive for Gmail, and Xobni for Outlook. I recognize the features of the Gmail people widget from something else, though--the Microsoft Outlook 2010 People Pane and Outlook Social Connectors. The Gmail people widget essentially mimics functionality that has existed in Outlook 2010 for the past two years.
A post on the Official Gmail Blog explains, "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."
I can vouch for that--at least from the Microsoft Outlook perspective. It streamlines productivity to have instant access to recent e-mail messages, file attachments, calendar events, meetings, and social network updates related to the contacts included in a given message. It helps remind me of relevant details of the ongoing conversation, and provides a much more efficient means of locating information from past exchanges without having to search my whole PC.
The Microsoft Outlook People Pane still has an advantage over the Gmail people widget with Outlook Social Connectors. The Outlook Social Connectors currently provide tie-ins with Windows Live Messenger, Viadeo, Facebook, and LinkedIn. By adding these Outlook Social Connectors, you can also view recent social network activity by contacts included in the e-mail message.
For contacts that are actually a part of your social network, the feature simply aggregates information you could just as easily get by visiting the social networking site. Outlook Social Connectors just makes it easier by bringing the information to you where you need it, and when it is most relevant. As an aside, Outlook Social Connectors will also show you public status updates from contacts that are not part of your social network if they haven't taken steps to make those posts private.
I like the People Pane in Outlook 2010, and the Outlook Social Connectors. I find the at-a-glance access to relevant messages, events, and status updates to be valuable. The Gmail people widget is coming late to the party, and lacks the social network tie-ins of Outlook, but it is a step in the right direction, and users that rely on Gmail will probably appreciate the people widget. Perhaps the additional functionality to link with social networks won't be far behind.