Gmail is about keeping you in touch with the people you care about, independent of the large, or sometimes small, distances that might separate you from them. That's precisely why email, IM, and voice and video chat are so powerful — the "where" is irrelevant.

With Google Latitude, a new feature on Google Maps for mobile and a gadget for iGoogle coming out today, we're kind of turning that idea on its head, making the "where" matter again. Latitude allows you to see where your friends are located in real time on a map, anywhere in the world.

Use your Gmail account to join Latitude and you can specify which of your Gmail contacts can see your location. You can choose to automatically detect your best location, share city-level information only, set your location manually, or hide your location altogether. (To learn more about Google Latitude's privacy controls, check out this video.)

From within Latitude you can communicate with your friends via text message, Google Talk, Gmail, or a good old fashioned phone call. Your status messages and profile picture are synced with your Gmail account, so as you update them on the go, your Gmail contacts will see the changes in real time.

To try Google Latitude, go to from your computer or your phone's mobile browser. Latitude is available on Android, Blackberry, S60, Winmo, and will be coming soon to the iPhone, through the Google Mobile App.