MOUNTAIN VIEW, California -- Google is making it easier to socialize on its e-mail service. It's unveiling a new "Google Buzz" feature that sets up a face-off with Facebook.

The feature unveiled Tuesday will enable Gmail users to create status updates on Google Buzz and read and comment on the updates posted by their friends.

Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson equated the enhanced offering to "an entirely new world in Gmail" during an unveiling presentation at the Internet giant's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Other new tools turn Gmail into a showcase for sharing video, pictures and Web links to interesting stories, just as users can on Facebook and Twitter.

Yahoo! added a similar feature to its email program, Yahoo Mail, last year, allowing users to see whether friends have uploaded a photo to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr.

In what could signal an escalating battle between Google and Facebook, the leading social-networking service celebrated its sixth birthday last week with changes that included a new message inbox that echoes the Gmail format.

Facebook now has more than 400 million worldwide users, many of whom post information that can't be indexed by Google's search engine. Facebook's large audience also threatens to siphon away some of Google's advertising sales.