10 February 2010

Google to Add Social Feature to Gmail

The Wall Street Journal

Google Inc. is taking a swipe at Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. with a new feature that makes it easier for users of Gmail to view media and status updates shared online by their friends.

Google could announce the new Gmail feature as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

The change adds a module to the Gmail screen that will display a stream of updates from individuals a user chooses to connect with, said one of these people. It is a format popularized by Facebook and Twitter.

Yahoo Inc. added a similar feature to Yahoo Mail last year, allowing users to see whether friends have uploaded a photo to a site like Flickr, for example.

Google, too, is trying to get users to turn to Gmail as a place they can go to see what's up with their friends. But whether users will want to blend sending email with browsing friends' content is unclear.

Google has been trying to fashion Gmail into more than an email service for years. It currently lets users set an "away message"—which can be a link to a Web site—that their friends see when they message them.

The new stream will eventually include content that a user's connections share through Google's YouTube video site and Picasa photo service, according to one person familiar with the matter. But whether those features will be announced in the coming days remains unclear.

Google's move comes after Facebook last week rolled out a new design with a newmessage inbox that more closely resembles an email inbox like Gmail's. The social-networking company said it had roughly 400 million users. Gmail had 176 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore Inc.

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