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Rapportive: Robust Social Profiles in your Gmail

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When working online, time-saving and efficiency are key. Rather than searching for information scattered around the web, you can save time with Rapportive.

I've never really found much benefit to the AdWords ads that show up in Gmail. From an advertiser standpoint I haven't seen tons of conversions come across and from a user standpoint I haven't looked at them in so long I have just trained myself to mentally block them out from my field of vision. 

So why not replace those ads with something much more useful? Rapportive, available as a browser plugin for Firefox, Safari, Mailplane, and Chrome, provides you with rich social contact profiles instead of Ads in Gmail. 

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For example if you got an email from me, you would see my profile with my full name, location, job titles and any relevant social networks that I'm on.

This is where things really get interesting because all from within these profiles, not only do you get one click access to all your contacts social networks but you also get to see the last things they tweeted about just by hovering over their Twitter handle. How's that for a personal conversation starter in your next email?

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This information shows up by default and doesn't require your contact to sign up for any additional services. It merely pulls together a social graph based on their email address and the networks they use and displays it for you without you ever having to lift a finger. If you have multiple contacts, just hovering over someone's email address will call up this information.

This is really just the beginning of what you can do with Rapportive though. As you connect it to your various social networks, you build out your own profile and connect more robustly with people, all right there next to your Gmail.

Let's say you met someone at SES and received a followup email from them. Wouldn't it be nice to connect right to their LinkedIn profile? What about seeing the latest status update from your friend at Facebook? What about commenting on that status update?

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That's right: Rapportive can handle all of that and more. It quickly turns from a robust profile into a social media aggregator of sorts and the more you connect with it, the more info you get in return.

Connecting to most of your social sites is a simple process that involves a few clicks and you only need to do once. Each layer of connectivity sheds more information on your contacts depending on the information they've provided to those networks and your association with that person. The list of possible social networks included is fairly comprehensive and you can view it here.

Taking this even further is something called Raplets. In essence, Raplets are extensions to your Rapportive extension. You can think of them like additional content blocks that sit in your Rapportive sidebar.

Raplets pull information from different sources and are fairly limitless as to the content you could conceivably pull. You access these by clicking on the Rapportive preferences item that sits at the top of your Gmail once you install Rapportive.

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Clicking on "Add or Remove Raplets" takes you to a secure page with a dozen or so choices that you can add instantly. Those using MailChimp can see if the contact they are emailing are reading their newsletters or perhaps you'd like to know your contacts Klout score or see the background of their company on Crunchbase. All of these and more are available Raplets and I'm quite sure that this will turn into an expansive library over time.

What's more is that if you have a custom need or some information you would like pulled in specifically, you can add a Custom Raplet and pretty much pull in whatever information you'd like provided you have access to a developer with some time on their hands. Information on coding your own Custom Raplet, along with tools and documentation is can be found at http://code.rapportive.com/

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Although we've been discussing the Plug-In version, should you find yourself with a Google Apps account and would like to role this functionality out to everyone in your company you can do so by enabling Rapportive via the Google Apps Marketplace. It may take a few hours for this to cycle through the system and start running but it will enable all of your employees to have this functionality regardless of browser type or having to have IT run around and install plugins for people. 

It should be noted, however, that the Google Apps version of Rapportive isn't as robust as the plugin version. Instead of replacing the ads in the sidebar, the rich profiles show up underneath each message in your email. It's a little more clunky and doesn't always load information the first time, but it's a great backup plan if you can't do browser add-ons for whatever reason.

I've been using this free plugin for Firefox for about six months now and I can't tell you how much time I've saved or how much more information I have on what's on the other side of an often faceless email address. This has become an essential data mining tool for me and has been great for client relations, starting conversations, understanding sales prospects, and much more.

Have you used Rapportive or a similar service? We'd love to hear your take on it and what you find it most useful for in the comments below.


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