By Matt Whiting
Much to the dismay of the masses who had previously written it off as a flop, Google+ resurfaced in the news earlier this week as a result of a new study by the GlobalWebIndex that offered surprising results. According to the much-discussed study, G+ just surpassed Twitter to become the second largest social network based on active users. One wrinkle that’s crowded many a comment section is the fact the original report doesn’t clearly define “active user.” As such, there’s no way to say for sure what their definition is and both the pro-G+ camp, the anti-G+ camp and the general skeptics have been trying to make sense of it all.
There’s been a lot of debate on the question at hand and just as Facebook “active users” include anyone who has posted a comment on an external article using a FB login, anyone who has clicked ‘like’ on a website and anyone who has played games through the FB login, Google+ “active users” appear to include those who have taken any action while logged into Google services. In both cases, “active user” doesn’t mean people are actively posting or interacting with content in news streams.
Wearing our skeptic’s hats, we’d point to a few things…
A different Pingdom report we recently read tallied the number of active global Gmail users at 425 million. That’s a difference of only 80 million from GlobalWebIndex’s Google+ stat, and we’d have thought a LOT more people are on Gmail than Google+. Oddly close.
Due to the grain of salt that has to be taken with any of Google’s properties, a more telling stat might be length of time spent on platforms per visit. Some of the last data we’ve seen (from comScore) on this topic had Twitter at 21 minutes per visit and Google+ at 3 minutes.
The other thing that makes us a bit wary is the fact that, according to the original report, Twitter has allegedly been growing at a rate of 40% over the last three quarters (compared to 27% for Google+) and has been around much longer. It’s kind of baffling how Google+ could be growing at a slower rate overall, but at a faster rate as far as “active users” are concerned. One could chalk that up to greater proportions of “lurkers” on Twitter, but we’re not convinced.
Stats are wonderful, but they must always be questioned, examined and put into context. We’ll be eager to see traffic numbers down the road that put some concreteness around any bump in truly active users stemming from heralded advances such as communities, background-instant photo upload, Hangouts and the like.
Only time will tell whether this current bit of pro-G+ news will mean “active users” may become a bit more active, turning the much decried “ghost town” into another solid platform for widespread social engagement. We’ll certainly be keeping our eyes on this and will report back with relevant updates.