Google has announced that it is rolling out a new Gmail feature over the next two weeks: the People Widget, a small sidebar to the right of email messages that features contextual information about the people you're contacting via email. The widget surfaces content from friends, family, and colleagues that is already available to you but may be hard to find.
The widget includes each person's job title, recent email exchanges you've had with them, phone calls, calendar availability, shared Google Docs, and Buzz updates. It also gives you quick access to a variety of ways to communicate with individuals, start a group chat, or schedule a meeting with groups of people.
Notice how everything is related to Google's own services? That's because this is one of the search giant's many attempts to add a social layer on top of its current offerings. There's no word if third party services (like Twitter or Flickr) will be included, but right now it doesn't look like it.
Although it takes up valuable space on your Gmail page, Google is hoping that users will accept this if they find that the widget is handy. The people widget will be a global release to Gmail's hundreds of millions users, and will be turned on by default. If you're already unhappy about this, don't worry as you will be able to turn it off in the settings. It's too early to tell if this will be more useful or more annoying, but we'll see soon enough.