Report: Google+ user numbers tell an incomplete story

google plus

At a Google event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Senior Vice President of Engineering Vic Gundotra took the stage to talk about Google+, and he painted a surprisingly rosy picture. Over 300 million active monthly users, up from 190 million in May of this year. Google+ is a growing network, and Gundotra’s cited statistics make it sound like the network is flourishing. 

Except Gundotra’s stats stem from a fishy way of measuring how many people use Google+. Many outlets have been skeptical of Google’s claims that Plus is used as widely as it says, and AllThingsD received confirmation that Google tallies its active users by measuring how many people click on the notification bell or the share icons that Google provides on all of its properties. 

As Google explained it to AllThingsD: “Yes, clicking on the notifications bell does count in our monthly actives metric for the Stream. If you click anywhere which leads to the Stream being loaded and displayed, we count you as viewing the Stream. The Stream is rendered on mobile (Android and iOS), on the Web at plus.google.com, and when you click and open a notification view of the Stream on desktop properties.”

Google hasn’t provided any further information breaking down how the 300 million active monthly users go about their Google+ activities, meaning that a substantial chunk of these users could just be occasionally clicking on the notification bell to clear their Google+ activity, not regularly sharing content or engaging in conversation. I know I only click on that red bell to make it stop being red, and I suspect there are others like me.

Since there’s no information on who is just getting rid of their notification and who is actually updating their Circles about their lives on Google+, it is difficult to tell how popular the service actually is. According to audience measure firm Nielson, Time reported earlier this month, people only spend 5.5 minutes on Google+ per month through desktop, and 12 minutes through the mobile app. Facebook users log a whopping 6.5 hours a month on desktop and 7 hours through mobile.

In other words, I’ve used Facebook, and Google+, you, sir, are no Facebook. 

Google+ has a lot of good things going for it: Hangouts are a fantastic option for video chatting, especially with groups, and I’m always impressed by its roster of photography tools. The UI is clean and easy to navigate, and upgrades announced on Tuesday make both Hangouts and photo and video editing better than before. And probably the most telling number given about Google+ at Tuesday’s event was photo-related: according to Google, over 1.5 billion photos are uploaded to Google+ every week, which seems like a crazy-high amount, but considering how excellent the service’s photo editing is, it underlines that Google made a good decision to fold its Picasa editing software into Google+ as a way to sway users. 

But for all of its positives and all of the effort Google’s expending trying to make its social network engaging and useful and all sorts of good things, it’s still not coming close to Facebook in terms of people actually spending time on it, and futzing the numbers isn’t going to make anyone suddenly decide to become a Plusser. 

Google+ is like that rich girl with all of the coolest toys who tries to throw a party but everyone’s already made plans to hang out at their usual place and besides, she’s getting a little too eager. And although the numbers do indicate that there is a growing interest in using the network, they may be grossly exaggerating how many people consider Google+ a social media destination. 

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