According to new Google figures, Google+ now has 135 million active users, with 235 million active users when counting Google properties with Google+ features, and 500 million with Google+ enabled accounts. Below, a chart of the growth and more about each type of figure.
Google’s Growing “Network Thingy”
If three sets of figures for a social network seems odd, that’s because Google+ is positioned by Google as more than a social network. Google has often spoken of it as a social “layer” across various Google properties. More recently, it has been described as a social “spine.”
Google’s post today with user figures gave new definition: a “network thingy,” and one growing faster than others:
Today Google+ is the fastest-growing network thingy ever.
I’ll look for some answers to this with I talk on stage with Vic Gundotra, who heads Google’s social efforts, later today at our SMX Social Media Marketing conference. More details about tuning-in are at the end of this story.
The Growth Chart
Let’s do the chart of the various numbers over time, then I’ll explain more about them below:
The line that goes back the farthest is for what I’m calling “The Enabled.” These are people who have Google Accounts — an account with Google that lets them use various services — who have also enabled that account to make use of Google+.
Not everyone with a Google Account uses Google+, just like not everyone with a Google Account automatically has other types of Google services. But over the past year, Google has heavily pushed for those with Google Accounts to make them Google+ capable.
Google’s taken criticism over time, including from me, for citing the enabled figure, because it doesn’t give any indication if people are actively using these accounts in general or specifically for Google+. Of the three figures, it’s the most useless. But it’s a data point, and here’s more about when each update came out:
- July 2011: 10 million
- October 2011: 40 million
- January 2012: 90 million
- April 2012: 170 million
- July 2012: 250 million
- September 2012: 400 million
- December 2012: 500 million
The Layer Users
In March, after a Wall Street Journal story called Google+ a “virtual ghost town” compared to Facebook, Google released a new figure to the New York Times, one about “active users” as opposed to those who simply had enabled accounts.
Unfortunately, that figure drew new criticisms, because it doesn’t cover people who share within Google+ itself but anyone who uses any Google product that has been enabled with Google+ features.
For example, anyone who goes to Gmail in a given month (and has a Google+ enabled account) has been counted as an active Google+ user even if they don’t necessarily make use of Google+ features within Gmail.
I examined problems with this new figure in my story from last March, which gets more into these issues, especially when trying to compare to other social networks:
Since February, we’ve now had two further updates of what I’m calling “Layer Users.” By the way, active means that someone has made use of a Google+ enabled service at least once per month. When the figures came out:
Real Google+ Users
In September, we finally got the figure many have long wanted, a count for those who actively (at least once per month) participate in Google+ itself, who either go into the actual Google+ area at Google on the web or on mobile devices.
Now we’ve gained our second data point. Google+ users went from 100 million in September to 135 million this month:
In three months, Google has grown 35 million active users, or about 12 million users per month. Is that good?
For some perspective, back when I was more closely tracking Facebook growth in 2009, it was gaining around 17-25 million per month, roughly.
To look more recently for Facebook:
That’s six months to add 100 million active users, or about 17 million per month. Facebook’s growth has been holding up well despite having gained so many users already. At 1 billion, Facebook also still far outdistances Google+.
There Is A Real Google+ Growth Story
While behind Facebook in both overall users and growth, I’d still think the figures are a positive for Google+. It does have growth, and substantial. And it’s a story we can finally see for the first time because Google is releasing a figure that corresponds to Facebook.
As I said, I’ll be learning more about these figures today from Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Engineering, Google+, who is doing the closing keynote conversation at our SMX Social Media Marketing show in Las Vegas at 3pm PT.
Postscript: A Debate About Comparing Figures
Gundotra has said I’m not comparing the new figures to Facebook correctly, in particular:
Danny – you are incorrectly comparing stats.
If I use Facebook messenger, or use the like button or use Facebook photo tagging or a local feature…. I’m counted as a FB user. The smaller number you use for Google+ is comparable to only use of Facebook stream, minus all other parts of Facebook.
As you can see this makes no sense. When a person uses Facebook in a logged in state, they are using Facebook. That is comparable to our 500m number. Yes some of those 500m users log in and only use maps. Or search. Or chrome. But they are logged in and we have a Google+ profile for them so they can have a much better experience.
I guess I disagree. The “in stream” figure that Google is providing for Google+ is far more comparable to Facebook’s active user count, from my understanding, than the Google layer figure and certainly not the 500 million “enabled” figure.
This is what Facebook told me about active users earlier this year:
An active user is someone who has visited Facebook.com and logged-in (or been logged in) or who has taken an action with a Facebook feature (e.g. clicked “like”, etc…). If the user doesn’t do any of those things for 30 days, they aren’t considered an active user.
If they only see social plugins across the web–even if those social plugins include social context such as friends’ photos, friends’ likes, friends’ recommendations–but doesn’t click anything, they are not an active user.
Gundotra is suggesting that anyone who has a Google Account enabled for Google+, but who never even necessarily logs into Google services using that account in a given month, much less makes use of any Google+ feature, should be compared to the Facebook active user count. That makes no sense. They aren’t comparable.
How about the layer figure? If someone goes to Facebook, sends a message, they’re counted as an active Facebook user even if they’re not posting or doing some type of “stream” activity. Shouldn’t that be comparable to the “layer” figure for Google+? How’s that different from someone sending email through Google or doing chat?
Those are more reasonable questions. I guess I tend to discount these because just adding a Google+ feature to an existing service doesn’t make it Google+, to me. YouTube has Google+ features. That doesn’t make it part of Google+.
I think there’s great validity in saying that GOOGLE, rather than GOOGLE+, has an active user base of 235 million and that this figure should be compared to the Facebook active user figure. That better helps encompass Google as a network of services that correspond to many of the services that Facebook provides.
As for Google+ itself, I think the “in stream” or Google+ active figure remains the better comparison for just that service, though it does undercount to some degree the Google+ activity. That remains, when comparing to Facebook, somewhere between 135 and 235 million.
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