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Better know your Gmail contacts with Rapportive

With this browser extension, you can interact via social media with your Gmail contacts right from your inbox.

When reading a Gmail message from one of your contacts, what would you like to appear in the right-hand panel: an ad or an interactive social media profile for the contact in question? No matter how targeted Gmail's ads might be, I'd wager you answered the latter. If so, then you'll want to try out Rapportive, a browser extension that brings the various social media profiles of your Gmail contacts right to your inbox.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Rapportive works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Mailplane. I installed it in Chrome and, after signing out and signing back in to my Gmail account, I saw the extension at work in Gmail's right panel. When you first encounter a Rapportive profile, you'll see buttons to connect your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google accounts to the extension. You need to do this only once for each, and then when you open a Gmail message, the sender's social media information will appear. Also, when you sign in to each of these accounts, Rapportive asks you which types of information you'd like included on your Rapportive profile.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

With Rapportive, your Gmail inbox becomes an interactive wealth of information. You'll be able to see recent Tweets and Facebook posts from your contacts without leaving your Gmail inbox. You can follow, reply, and retweet on Rapportive's Twitter box, and you can comment on Facebook posts. And you're just a click away from opening a tab with the contact's Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn profile. My own profile included other Google products -- Blogger and Picasa -- that I use, along with Vimeo, which is included I suspect because I use my Gmail to sign in to that account.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Rapportive isn't new but if Gmail is at the center of your day-to-day operations, you'll quickly come to embrace it.

(Hat tip to my brother-in-law, @reallymdp)