Google (s GOOG) plans to add a stream of recent status messages and media from users’ contacts to Gmail as soon as this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The feature, which could be announced at a press event tomorrow, would be very much in line with what Google told us it wanted to do to catch up on the social front in 2010: as I wrote last month, “to expose and elicit more of the social network built into the tools that many of us already use.” It also makes a lot of sense, given how central email is to our daily existence and our connections to people.
According to the WSJ’s unnamed sources, the new feature would be a “module” in Gmail where users can click through to see a stream of friends’ updates, YouTube video sharing and Picasa photos. It would be an extension of Gmail’s instant-messenger style status messages, which are displayed along with presence information and currently aren’t archived for search or perusal.
The problem with lightweight incorporation of status updates, though, is that the tools around social streams have already gotten quite complex. Gmail will have to do a good job of understanding who we want to hear from, letting us group and block contacts, and integrating with other updates like Facebook and Twitter. If Google really wants to do this right, it should open everything up to outside developers.
Meanwhile, Yahoo (s YHOO) already shows an aggregated stream of status messages and online activity within its web mail product; it calls the feature Yahoo Updates.
Thumbnail photo by Flickr user christyxcore.