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Gist, one of a growing number of startups that provide social and real-time data about your email contacts, is expanding its reach by announcing new integration with Gmail. Now users can use Gist to view their contacts’ social network profiles and other relevant news directly in their Gmail inbox.

The Seattle-based startup is one of a number of companies announcing support today for Google’s “contextual gadgets”, a feature that the search giant first previewed in March. It’s part of the Google Apps Marketplace, where companies can sell their own applications that integrate with Google Apps, Google’s package of business tools, which includes Gmail. The initial integration involved things like single logins and shared data, but the contextual gadgets take things further, allowing you to use non-Google apps directly within Gmail.

Gist founder and chief executive T.A. McCann acknowledged that there are a number of other companies offering similar services, such as Xobni. But most of them focus on data in your social networks and your email inbox. Gist includes that information, while also incorporating news from more than 20 million blogs and more than 50,000 other news sources. And where the competitors are usually focused on one or two email applications, Gist supports a much broader range of services through its website and also has specific plugins or applications for Microsoft Outlook, IBM-owned Lotus Notes, Apple’s iPhone, and now Gmail. An Android application is coming soon too.

McCann said it was “frustrating” to see companies like Etacts arguably beat Gist to Gmail by launching browser plugins. That approach would have been faster, but working with Google on a contextual gadget allows for deeper integration, he said, and also means that the data can be carried between different browsers and devices.

Gist’s investors include Foundry Group and Vulcan Capital. The company’s Gmail gadget is available here for free.

Update: Google has published a blog post about the new contextual gadgets, including a list of initial partners. Among them are Gist competitors Xobni and Rapportive. Xobni also has a blog post outlining its new platform that lets developers insert Google gadgets into Microsoft Outlook.

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