It's a connected world, and Google is moving to connect it a little more tightly this week for Gmail account holders.
The search-engine giant on Monday announced a new innovation from Gmail Labs that aims to streamline personal connectivity by tethering its Web-based e-mail program with its calendar function and Google Docs.
"Google is responding to user feedback by introducing the calendar and docs gadgets into Gmail," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "In particular, the calendar gadget is useful. But it's also a way for Google to reinforce usage and build awareness of other Google services. And more broadly, Google is increasingly integrating its services and using gadgets or widgets to do so."
Responding to Gmail Feedback
Sterling is on to something with the "useful" observation. Until now, Gmail users had to open separate tabs in a browser, accessing Gmail on one screen and Google Calendar and Google Docs on additional screens. Gmail Labs' latest project integrates the trio of Web-based products in the name of convenience. The new "lab experiments" let consumers add gadgets to the left navigation bar, next to Chat and Labels.
"We've worked with the engineers from the calendar and docs teams on two highly requested features: A simple way to see your Google Calendar agenda and get an alert when you have a meeting, and a gadget that shows a list of your recently accessed Google Docs and lets you search across all of your documents right from within Gmail," Gmail engineer Dan Pupius wrote on the company's blog.
Beyond these additions, a third lab lets Gmail users add any gadget to the Web-based e-mail interface by pasting in the URL of its XML spec file (e.g. http://www.google.com/ig/modules/youtube_videos.xml). Less patient Gmail users, though, may want to wait until Google works the bugs out.
"We realize this isn't very user-friendly right now; it's a sandbox mainly aimed at developers who want to play around with gadgets in Gmail," Pupius admitted. "We're not tied to the left nav as a primary way to extend Gmail -- in fact, we think it is relatively limited and doesn't offer scalable real estate. There are also some downsides to the IFrame-style gadgets we're using today -- they can sometimes slow down the page. We're fanatical about speed, so we'll be keeping a close eye on performance."
Gadget Suggestions and Warnings
As Pupius sees it, the latest Gmail Labs offerings give Google a chance to test the developer infrastructure involved in its Gmail extensions. This is also a chance for Google to test the developer infrastructure involved. Google is working with other gadget containers to make gadgets more portable, Pupius said.
Pupius also offered a couple of notes about the new Gmail Labs features. He suggested Gmail users try out Anatol's Navbar drag and drop labs feature to reorder all the boxes on Gmail's left-hand side. And he warned that not all gadgets are fully compatible with https. That means if Gmail users connect to Gmail via https, they may see mixed content warnings caused by parts of the gadgets being served over http. Pupius said Google is working on fixing this.
"We're looking forward to your comments in the labs forum, so send us your ideas, let us know how you like the calendar and docs gadgets, and if you've written a gadget that you think works well in Gmail, post it and let us and other users try it out," Pupius said.
Image credit: iStock/Artist's concept.