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Here’s a new way to get social context about your friends while you’re busy with email. Xoopit, a company that makes a Firefox browser add-on for Gmail, now also lets you both update your Facebook status while in Gmail and see your friends’ status updates when you’re reading email from them.

Sure, many people prefer other browsers and email programs. What’s interesting here is that Xoopit is using newly-available, two-way integration with Facebook status updates, through the social network’s web-wide identity service, Connect.

For now, the add-on is pretty simple. To use it, first install the Xoopit plugin, click on the Facebook icon in the upper right-hand corner of Gmail, click the button to approve Connect integration, and you’re set. You enter your own status updates from Gmail in the Facebook message window. When you click on any message that a friend on Facebook emailed to your Gmail account, you’ll see their status.

I’m not sure how the company is matching your friends’ Facebook identities with the emails they send you. It may be matching users’ names between the two services, or it may somehow be accessing and checking the email addresses on Facebook, and matching them with the addresses in your Gmail address book — I’m waiting to hear back from the company on these and other questions.

The Facebook features are integrated with Xoopit’s existing features, which include a top toolbar showing you media (photos, videos) that people have recently shared with you, email updates about shared media, media search, and a separate web site that shows you a stream of said media. If you click on the “recent email” button within the Xoopit window showing your friends’ Facebook status, you can see previous emails and media they’ve sent you. If you click on “more info” in the window, you can see a list of attachments they’ve recently sent you; once you click on that button, you can also click on “contact info,” which will take you to your friends Gmail Contacts page for the person.

At present, the service seems more interesting as a proof-of-concept than something I see people using. For starters, it’s constrained by only working on Firefox and Gmail (although Xoopit has said that it will expand to other email programs and browsers). More important, your friends’ status updates themselves aren’t typically relevant to what you’re emailing about with a friend. Considering that email is a productivity tool, seeing status updates can be a distraction. As you might guess from the screenshot, I don’t need to see that my colleague Dean Takahashi is spamming his Facebook friends with a link to an article he published earlier, when he’s emailing me now to plan how to cover a breaking story.

Perhaps most important, though, Google has been working hard to build its own social features for Gmail, and it is beginning to let other developers do so as well (so is Yahoo and other major email providers). Xoopit is going to face competition from all sides. For example, you can already read and respond to tweets on Twitter through a third-party widget called TwitterGadget, which resides in Gmail’s sidebar. Google itself has been experimenting with creating new ways for people to share information, through initiatives like Friend Connect. Given the publicly-stated intentions of Google, Facebook and other major social service providers to continue letting third-parties access their data, expect status messages — and other potentially interesting data — to start appearing in a wide range of services.

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