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gmail people widgetGoogle announced a new feature for Gmail today called the People Widget, which includes social details about whoever you’re corresponding with right alongside your emails.

If the concept sounds familiar, that’s probably because startups like Xobni and Rapportive have tried to do something similar. Even Microsoft launched a service in this vein for its Outlook email program, called the Outlook Social Connector, so it seems like this idea is spreading. And unlike most social email products, Gmail’s People Widget doesn’t require the user to install a new plugin — the information will just start appearing for Gmail users over the next couple of weeks.

Xobni, which launched as an Outlook plugin but also has a Gmail version in beta testing, sent the following statement from chief executive Jeff Bonforte:

We now have over 7 million people using Xobni to help them make sense of their inbox and manage their relationships. So, this announcement is of no surprise to us – it is good news because it raises the bar across the entire email space. To have the email giants actively competing and innovating is important for Xobni as a startup, and we welcome the attention and news from Google.

The People Widget seems to have one big disadvantage over similar products. While Rapportive and Xobni include social data from sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, the new Gmail feature will probably be limited to Google services like Google Buzz (yes, it’s still around), Google Docs, and Google Calendar — at least judging from the hints and screenshots in the blog post. (I’ve emailed Google to confirm that’s the case.) Facebook and Google don’t seem to be in a sharing mood, but hopefully integration with Twitter and LinkedIn will be announced soon, for starters. (Update: A Google spokesperson that the People Widget will be limited to Google services.)

[In an earlier version of this post, I said that Xobni does not have a Gmail product. I was wrong.]

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