MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (TheStreet) -- Taking more than just a page from of its fast growing social networking rivals, Google (GOOG - Get Report) plans to turn Gmail into a friendly connection hub that could serve to undercut the appeal of Twitter and Facebook as those shops head to Wall Street.

Google is expected to unveil new features on Gmail that will give users the ability to share status updates and info with friends, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The move not only marks Google's first direct attack on Twitter and Facebook's networking enterprise, but it also comes just days after Facebook introduced email as part of its site revamp.

The battle will be watched closely by analysts and investors who view both Twitter and Facebook among the biggest IPO candidates in the coming months -- or years.

Tech investors crave growth, and Twitter has been a rocket. Off a small base, Twitter's user ranks grew more than 1,000% last year, according to Nielsen Online. And Facebook, despite its size, grew more than 200%.

Twitter's microblogging feature has not only caught on as an infectious headline exchange service, it's made headlines by serving as a defacto news network when stories break.

Last year, Google and Microsoft ( MSFT - Get Report) bought Twitter feeds to bring more real-time resources to its search pages. The business deal reportedly helped Twitter book a profit last year.

Facebook says it has about 200 million daily users, and unlike News Corp ( NWS - Get Report) rival MySpace, Facebook hasn't fallen out of favor yet with the fickle rise and fall of pop trends. Facebook's entry into emailing is a considerable threat to Gmail and Yahoo! ( YHOO) mail services that use the heavy traffic flow to sell more ads.

Google's efforts in social networking haven't always paid off.

Google Chat, an instant messaging feature, hasn't been compelling, at least not compelling enough to make a dent in AOL's ( AOL) IM. And Orkit, Google's own six-year-old social networking service, has had limited success overseas, but nearly no recognition stateside.

While Google tries to stay apace with Twitter and Facebook, Wall Street eagerly searches for the next Google.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York

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