Gmail is introducing a new ‘people widget’ feature that adds contextual information about people you’re emailing. The widget will show a summary of your relationship to that person, as well as information about group events and documents that the person has put online. If that sounds a little bit like Google Buzz, well, you might be right.
While people wait for Google to make some huge announcement about a new social network to rival Facebook, I think it’s pretty clear that Google is being more subtle and is slowly introduced social networking features to existing services like Gmail, Google Maps and even the core search engine. By reverse-engineering a social network in this way, Google is slowly tightening the connections between its users.
This is probably the best approach for Google. Announcing a social network and inviting people to join is a laborious task that invites failure. However, Google is effectively mimicking a social network more and more, while not using that particular label. Facebook might find itself being left behind before it realises what is really happening.