Search giant vs. social giant?

Google opened a new social hub in its e-mail service, leaving little doubt that the Internet search leader is girding for a face-off with Facebook.

The new Gmail channel, called Google Buzz, includes many of the features that have turned Facebook into the Web's top spot for fraternizing with friends and family.

It comes less than a week after Facebook made changes. Among other things, Facebook now shows a list of friends available for chatting on the left side of the page, similar to where Gmail now displays its chat feature.

The Google Buzz features won't reach all of Gmail's estimated 176 million users worldwide for several days. A link to the service will appear on the top left of the page, in a prominent position just under Gmail's inbox tab.

Like Facebook, Google Buzz will let Gmail users post updates about what they are doing or thinking and share those with the rest of the world or with only a select group of people. Gmail users also will be able to track other people's updates and instantly comment on them for everyone else in the social circle to see.

And, just like Facebook, Google Buzz can serve as a showcase for video, photos and Web links.

- The Associated Press