Location-aware Gmail rivals Mail Goggles in silliness

New features available via Gmail's experimental Lab are sometimes quite useful, like its new multiple-inbox feature that lets users more easily view different categories of e-mail. But others seem just silly. Case in point, the new ability to make Gmail signatures location-aware. Not since the advent of Mail Goggles has Google offered a more strange or less useful addition.

The idea behind location-aware signatures is that users may be traveling so much that it's just easier to have Google automatically append their location to their signature than it is for them to have to actually tell people where they are. As Marco Bonechi says in the Gmail Blog explaining the feature:

Because I love to travel, the first question in many messages I receive is "where are you?" and by the time I answer I am often somewhere else. So in my 20% time, I wrote an experimental Gmail Labs feature that detects your location and appends the city region and country names to your signature.

The feature uses your public IP address to find your location, which isn't always accurate (for example, users at Heathrow airport in London are mistakenly labeled as being in Germany). To avoid such mishaps, Bonechi recommends using Gears, which can also use Wi-Fi signals to determine the location. All of which seems like a lot of technology to do something a user (if there are any--beyond Bonechi--so inclined) could do with a couple of keystrokes.

The Gears part is telling though. Back when Google first launched its location-aware APIs, Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped posited that the intent was to get more users downloading and using Gears.

"The more useful Gears becomes as a plug-in, the more likely it will be pre-installed on systems in the future – which increases the control Google has over the browser environment, which in turn enables them to more quickly launch initiatives which make the web in general and their tools more powerful without the need to go through years of industry lobbying/ standardization/ browser updating & deployment processes."

So yes, location-aware signatures is a silly feature. But it might just be fun enough to convince some users to download Gears, spreading Google's influence a bit more around the Web.

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