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Google Gmail Tweak Challenges Facebook, Twitter

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (Reuters) -- Google Inc is tapping its huge network of Gmail users and Web surfers to create a Buzz that it hopes will help it catch up with online social networking leaders Facebook and Twitter.

The world's No. 1 search engine on February 9 launched Google Buzz, which allows users to quickly share messages, web links, and photos with friends and colleagues directly within Gmail, the company's popular email product.

Also, a new arsenal of products make the new social networking features compatible with mobile devices such as smartphones based on Google's Android operating system.

Google's new technology mimics some of the key features of popular social networking services like Twitter and Facebook, which are increasingly challenging Google for web surfers' online time.

By integrating Buzz directly into Gmail, Google hopes to jumpstart its social networking push by leveraging the large pool of Gmail users.

"There's always been a giant social network underneath Gmail," said Google Product Manager Todd Jackson at a press event at Google's Mountain View, California headquarters on February 9.

Gmail is the third most popular web-based email in the world, with 176.5 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore. Microsoft Corp's Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo Inc's Mail were No. 1 and No. 2, with 369.2 million and 303.7 million unique visitors, respectively.

Google will roll out Buzz to Gmail users over the next few days, it said.

Status messages that users publish on Buzz and flag as viewable to everyone will be automatically indexed by Google's search engine and be available within Google's recently launched real-time search results. Google said users can also keep messages private by sharing only with customized groups of friends and colleagues.