Google reported this week that Google+ now has 300 million monthly “in stream” users — a number that places it well ahead of the 215 million monthly active users that Twitter recently listed in its pre-IPO S-1 document.
But, as is often the case with usage numbers (and not just those related to Google+), the definition of an “in stream” user isn’t as obvious as it may seem.
Ex-WSJ writer Amir Efrati wrote this week that, according to former Google employees, Google counts clicks on the Google+ notifications icon (currently a bell, formerly a red button) as being “in stream” on Google+.
A Google spokesperson confirmed with us that this is still the case:
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.
In other words, “in stream” doesn’t mean that’s how many people go to plus.google.com to consume content on Google+. Click the bell on YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs or any other place where it shows and Google counts you as “in stream” on Google+.
As I said above, and to be fair, this isn’t just a Google thing. If you click the Facebook “Like” button or the “Tweet” button up near the headline of this article, and you’re logged in to your account on either of those services, you count as a “monthly active user” even if you never actually visit Facebook.com or Twitter.
It makes comparing usage levels on social networks something of a cat-and-mouse game that’s likely to never end … not unless everyone agrees to some metric that offers an apples-to-apples comparison of usage and popularity. (Dream on, McGee.)