Early this month, Google offered military families free $10 international call credits.  The goal was to help soldiers deployed around the world stay in touch with their loved ones.  Now, Google’s also set to make it easier for ordinary U.S. citizens to save money when chatting, as it’s offered free calling in Gmail through the end of next year.

A post on the Official Gmail Blog explained this afternoon, "When we launched calling in Gmail back in August, we wanted it to be easy and affordable, so we made calls to the U.S. and Canada free for the rest of 2010.  In the spirit of holiday giving and to help people keep in touch in the new year, we’re extending free calling for all of 2011."

That may be a generous offer.  Google hasn’t shared a lot of stats about how many people place calls through Gmail, but there are definitely more than a few (one million calls were placed in the first 24 hours), and adoption rates are sure to increase over time.  Letting folks ring an acquaintance up whenever they please is a bold move.

The two semi-catches: the blog post noted that, as before, "Calling in Gmail is currently only available to U.S. based Gmail users."  And calls placed to foreign countries other than Canada should continue to cost a tiny bit (perhaps around $0.02 per minute).

Have fun calling folks for free if you live in America and want to chat with another U.S. citizen, at least.