MOUNTAIN VIEW: Google, the online search giant, is continuing its push into social networking, adding tools to its email service which replicate those available on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Eric Schmidt, the Mountain View-based firm's chief executive, recently announced that the web pioneer was planning to "make all of our products more social."

The company will now update Gmail, its free email platform, with some of the features that have proved highly successful for operators like Facebook, which recently reached 400 million members worldwide.

At present, Gmail users can upload "status updates" in a similar fashion to Facebook and Twitter via Google Chat, an instant messaging facility which is integrated with it email offering.

Google will soon allow this audience to gather together updates from their various contacts into one feed, further encroaching on the territory occupied by these Web 2.0 properties.

Comscore estimated that Gmail had over 170 million unique visitors in December, and the modified version could come to include material from other sites like YouTube, the video-sharing website.

However, Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner, the research firm, argued "anything Google does with Gmail should be seen as a defensive manoeuvre."

"In non-work settings, the trajectory favours Facebook," he added, particularly as netizens are increasingly "staying inside" social networks to view a broad range of content.

On its part, Facebook has rolled out an "inbox" similar to that used by more conventional email providers, and could attempt to further develop this aspect of its operations going forward.

Experian Hitwise has also reported that the amount of traffic that Facebook directed to media sites in the US rose last year from 1.2% to 3.52% on an annual basis.

Google's main portal was responsible for a 17.32% share of the overall total, but Google News was largely static on this measure, on around 1.4%.

Heather Hopkins, a senior online analyst at Hitwise, wrote in blog post that "Facebook could be a major disruptor to the news and media category."

"And with the Wall Street Journal already publishing content to Facebook, perhaps the social network can avoid the run-ins that Google has suffered recently with Rupert Murdoch. We will continue to watch this space."

Data sourced from Financial Times/Media Guardian; additional content by Warc staff