Google Plus racks up followers, but not all are devoted

May 01, 2013 by Thomas Watkins
Google Plus is racking up large numbers of new users and continues to outpace Twitter as the world's number two social network behind Facebook, according to data released this week by Internet analytics firm GlobalWebIndex.

When Google launched its social networking service, Google Plus, during the summer of 2011, tens of millions of people clamoured to sign up for an account.

But within months, critics had panned the new service, pointing to user pages bereft of meaningful content and exchanges. They said the new social site just wasn't, well, social. It seemed as though had cornered the market—Google was too late to the party.

Perhaps not. According to data released this week by Internet firm GlobalWebIndex, Google Plus is racking up large numbers of new users and continues to outpace Twitter as the world's number two social network, behind perennial titan Facebook.

The reasons behind Google Plus's growth—it now can boast 359 million active users, up 33 percent from 269 million users at the end of June 2012, according to GlobalWebIndex—are complex and tied to Google's effort to build a connecting layer across all its services, including search, YouTube, maps and other products. Log into one, and you've logged into the lot.

Google itself is tight-lipped about its numbers. Its last released figures were in December, when the search giant said 500 million people had created Google Plus accounts.

But of this number, only 135 million were actively posting to Google Plus pages. Millions more were using some of the service's features, such as clicking the "+1" button to show they liked certain .

It remains far behind Facebook, which boasts 701 million active users, according to the report, though Facebook founder last year claimed more than a billion active accounts.

Still, the volume of Google Plus accounts suggests naysayers were too hasty in calling its demise. Like many services, Google Plus has won over a devoted core of users.

One such convert is New Zealand photographer Trey Ratcliff, whose picture-centric Google Plus page has nearly five million .

"It's nice to pop into Google Plus to discover new things. Facebook is pretty good, but it's harder to discover new people or have more in-depth discussions around passions," he said in an email exchange.

Indeed, this may be how Google Plus will find its niche in the crowded social media world: Whereas Facebook is the go-to service for connecting friends, Google Plus is more often used to meet strangers who share common interests.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in California on April 4, 2013. Zuckerberg last year claimed there were more than a billion active Facebook accounts.

Google Plus acknowledged as much last year by adding its "Communities" section, which hosts a diverse mass of groups and lets users join a "hangout"—the popular group video service.

"We're extremely happy with our progress so far, and one of our main goals is to transform the overall Google experience and make all of the services people already love faster, more relevant, and more reliable," Google said.

But some observers remain sceptical that account holders are doing much on Google Plus, and see it as little more than a tricked-out sign-in service for Google's products.

Claire Stokoe, who works as social media manager at Mediaworks, a marketing agency in the English city of Newcastle, said she is doubtful Google Plus will ever catch up to Facebook, but she warns clients not to ignore it.

"An authoritative Google Plus account is one of the factors that will help you rank high on Google (search results)," she said, noting that a popular Google Plus account was an important criterion in the search algorithm that ranks pages.

But she doesn't see the service expanding far beyond the business and marketing world—at least for now.

A smartphone shows the first twitter message sent by Pope Benedict XVI on December 12, 2012. GlobalWebIndex's report found that Twitter usage was growing fastest among older people, confounding stereotypes that social networking is for the young.

"Whoever I ask, everyone has a Facebook account. I don't know anyone who has a Google Plus account unless they are in the industry, and that's because they have to," Stokoe said.

GlobalWebIndex's latest figures show that while Google Plus is the second-most popular after Facebook, Twitter is actually growing at a slightly faster clip, increasing from 206 million users at the end of June last year to about 297 million today, a rate of about 44 percent.

The study also found that usage was growing fastest among older people, especially with Twitter, confounding stereotypes that social networking is for the young.

GlobalWebIndex is a London-based firm that tracks Internet users through a series of surveys in 31 countries, with an annual sample size of about 120,000 people. It asks respondents which social platform they have directly contributed to in the last month and said Google itself uses its numbers internally.

The study found that Facebook also continued to grow rapidly, at about the same rate as Plus.

But the leading social network is also said to be battling "Facebook fatigue" in some countries, with some users growing bored of the service or else bemoaning its myriad changes to privacy settings and other tweaks, including the growing prevalence of sponsored content.

A study by the Pew Research Center in February found that more than half of US Facebook members had taken breaks from the leading social network. While the top reason was they were just too busy, people also cited fatigue with the service.

Judith Catterall, a retired choreographer from Portland, Oregon, said she tried to close her account after getting fed up with changes and a news feed becoming increasingly cluttered with sponsored content.

"It's one of those things where you think 'OK, I have no control,' and that may have been the final straw," she said.

But within 10 days of deactivating her account, Catterall was back on Facebook. She missed her friends.

Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tale of the tape: Google versus Facebook

May 17, 2012

Facebook is the hottest Internet company to hit the stock market since Google went public in 2004. The Silicon Valley companies, located seven miles apart, also happen to be locked in a bitter battle for Web surfers' allegiance ...

Google temporarily disables 'Realtime' search

Jul 04, 2011

Google Inc. has temporarily shut down a search engine feature that allows users to find real-time updates from Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and other social networking sites.

Google+ adds members, photo-sharing app

Dec 06, 2012

Google said Thursday its online social network had grown to 135 million active users, as it added a photo-sharing app to compete against services like Facebook's Instagram.

Facebook makes sharing more selective

Aug 23, 2011

Facebook on Tuesday announced it is rolling out improvements aimed at letting users be more selective about who gets to see what they post at the world's largest online social network.

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

vvip
not rated yet May 01, 2013
Wait for google glass, and the rack will soon overflow..!
SleepTech
not rated yet May 01, 2013
"The reasons behind Google Plus's growth——are tied to Google's effort to build a connecting layer across all its services, including search, YouTube, maps and other products. Log into one, and you've logged into the lot."

This is it right here. I had a YouTube account in 2005 before Google bought it. I had a Gmail account in 2008. Then Google did this maneuver where you had to sign up on Google+ with your YouTube account. Now I have two Google+ accounts, neither of which I actually use Google+ with.

It's just fudging the numbers, really.
Deadweasel
not rated yet May 01, 2013
Agreed that they're forcing their user expansion, though it's not all bad. There are a few cases where they're offering some decent benefits.
I use Google Talk in the browser to keep in touch with family because of its superiority over Skype for voice and video calls. Google introduced multiple video conference calls, but made them exclusive to their G+ "Hangouts", and that's what convinced me to finally convert my account. It also provides the ability to organize my contacts a bit better.
The biggest problem I have with G+ at present is the consistent nagging to expose my real name on services like Youtube. The proposed conversion would happen across all of Google's services including the general login, which I sometimes use to shortcut logging in on other sites. I don't mind having useful tidbits offered to join their (free) club, but the real problem is going to start if they decide to start forcing real names instead of nagging and giving me a choice.

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...