Update: Google to make Gmail more social

Source says Google plans to unveil Gmail social networking tools on Tuesday

Google Inc. plans to tweak Gmail to make it easier for its users to post and share status updates, in an attempt to inject the webmail service with social networking capabilities similar to those popularized by Twitter and Facebook.

A source close to Google this afternoon said the new social networking features for Gmail will be unveiled early Tuesday afternoon. The company declined to disclose its plans today.

The updates would make Google the latest consumer Internet company to try to graft social networking features into online communications services. Yahoo Inc. and AOL Inc. have already taken steps to "socialize" their respective webmail and instant messaging services.

How successful Google and the others will be in replicating the allure of the social networking sites' experience in their Internet communications services is still unclear.

Facebook Inc.'s site, with about 400 million members worldwide and counting, has become the preferred venue for people to engage in online social networking. Among other things, it offers very granular privacy controls.

Meanwhile, individuals and organizations alike see Twitter Inc.'s service as the de facto vehicle for posting brief public status updates on the Web.

While Gmail, its GTalk IM companion, and the webmail and IM services from Yahoo and AOL have tens of millions of users worldwide, people associate them with their specific communications uses.

Google has a social networking site, Orkut, that is popular in certain parts of the world, like Brazil, but is far from matching Facebook's appeal.

Facebook is increasingly seen as a serious Google competitor, as it has broadened its scope of offerings into areas that users typically associate with Google. For example, people increasingly search the Web from within Facebook using Microsoft's Bing engine. Meanwhile, many news publishers have begun to deliver their content within Facebook, turning the site into something of a rival of the Google News article aggregation site. Facebook also provides internal messaging and IM capabilities, as well as photo- and video-sharing features.

Computerworld's Sharon Gaudin contributed to this story.

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