Commentary

Google Gives Me More Stuff To Ignore

I have no idea whether I'm at all representative of Gmail's user base, but if I am Google would be well-advised to just can the whole social media push it's been planning for over a year now. Because, as far as I'm concerned, all the new bells, whistles and widgets Google has added to the email service to make it more "social" are just annoying distractions, which I avoid as scrupulously as Google's targeted ads.

The latest social spaghetti flung against the Gmail wall is a "people widget," which basically acts a social network profile in miniature for your correspondents. When you click on an email conversation, the widget pops up displaying a picture of the person and telling you whether he or she is online now, as well as a brief summary of recent conversations, calendar extracts reminding you of any shared plans, and the like.

Google explains: "The people widget surfaces content from friends, family and colleagues that is already available to you but may be hard to find and makes it easier to connect with them."

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That's a great rationale for the people widget, but I must disagree on a number of points. First of all, thanks to Gmail's great intuitive design, this information is not "hard to find": in fact most of it is six inches away, on the other side of the screen. In effect the people widget seems to simply replicate information already available under my Gmail contacts list, mistaking redundancy for relevance. Second, the information in the people widget doesn't make it "easier to connect with them," because most of it (as noted) is already available elsewhere on the same screen, or at most a click away on a calendar page or search function.

I admit this may partly be a matter of pride: if I have plans with someone, or am curious about our past conversations, I flatter myself that I can probably remember where to find that person. Maybe the widget will be helpful to people who have more hectic social and professional lives. But the real kicker for me is that I can't make the people widget go away: while I can block individuals, I don't see any options for closing, minimizing, hiding, or otherwise banishing the widget from my Gmail experience. Apparently it is just going to hang out there, yet another annoying piece of clutter floating on the right-hand side of the screen, forever.

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