Gmail’s new chat: Social or spam?

Ionut Alex Chitu at Google Operating System has been spending some time poking around in the entrails of the Javascript code behind Gmail, and has found what he believes are signs of forthcoming chat-related features, including what appear to be updates from your friends and contacts via the chat window (the chat function and a list of contacts was made an integral part of Gmail in the most recent update).

It’s not clear whether these updates will come as a pop-up chat window, or as a change in the GTalk status message you see below your contacts in the sidebar of Gmail, or some combination of the two — and it’s not clear whether they will only refer to things that your friends have done through other Google properties such as Picasa or Orkut or Google Docs. But if Ionut is right, then this appears to be another small piece of the Google Social (code-named “Maka-Maka”) puzzle.

Zoli Erdos is afraid that this could produce a tidal wave of spam from your Gmail contacts, who many people noted (during the recent Google Reader frenzy) may not be your actual friends. He compares the potential fiasco that would be involved to Plaxo’s notorious spam approach in its early days, but I think he may be overreacting. For one thing, you can choose to show only your “most popular” contacts in your Gmail sidebar — that is, the ones you email and chat with most often.

I seems as though Google is pulling the threads of its social net together, whether it’s shared items in Reader or user profiles or group chat. And the latest changes hint at a realization of the “email as social web” vision we heard about not so long ago, where your email is the center of a social net — I know that I already have chat and other features embedded in my mail, since I use GTalk almost exclusively from within GMail, and my Twitter conversations occur inside GTalk as well.

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