Google plans to introduce new social networking features into Gmail later this week, hoping to keep users logged into the popular e-mail service for longer periods of time.
A Google spokesperson said one new feature will include the ability for Gmail users to blog about their daily activities, and then share the post with others. Users will also be able to post status updates to their Gmail accounts. Previously, Google limited updates through the built-in chat system only, so this will be a fairly drastic change.
The new Gmail features may look relatively small, but they are necessary baby steps for Google to better compete with Facebook and MySpace. Even though Google looks to compete with other social media sites, the new features could be synced with Facebook and MySpace.
Google owns several technologies geared towards social networking, the most popular being Orkut, but so far that service has not taken off in North America. The Orkut service has been popular in South America and a few other developing markets, but it hasn’t appealed to users in other regions.
The search engine company has made baby steps into social networking, but still hasn’t seen direct success from its efforts in social media. I think it is only a matter of time before Google finds the right solutions, but I don’t think the new Gmail features will matter much in the long run.
I’m afraid Google will release a “beta” service that is rushed out the door, especially now that there are rumors Facebook wants to create its own real e-mail system for users. If Facebook does release a new e-mail system, it will compete directly with Gmail. Google will have the upper hand, as many users likely won’t want to have their e-mail based on their social networking account.