The debate on the activity level on Google+ has raged for years. How many users are really active on it? Is the place a ghost town? Why hasn’t Google shut it down already? Well, I decided to put it to the test, so I did a hardcore analysis of 516,246 randomly selected Google+ profiles, and this post has the scoop for you. Sit down and fasten your seat belts because here we go!
Since you create a Google profile regardless of how you sign up with Google, it should be no surprise that there are many people with profiles on Google+ that have never posted publicly there. But how many? Here you go:
90 percent of the people who create a Google profile have never posted publicly on Google+.
Lifetime Public Posting
Let’s look at a detailed table of our stats, and then I will walk through what you are looking at, row by row:
As you look at the above table, you will see a number of columns. These are defined as follows:
- Category – The current metric we are examining.
- Base Count – The raw total of profiles we examined that had this many public posts.
- % of Active Profiles – Percentage the Base Count represents of the active profiles we found.
- % of All Tested – Percentage the Base Count represents of all the profiles we tested.
- Extrapolate Across 2.2B – Take the Percentage of All Tested profiles and multiply that by 2.2B, which is an estimate of the number of total profiles there are on G+.
- Adjusted Count – This is the Base Count adjusted to filter out people whose sole activity on G+ consists of YouTube comments, YouTube Video shares, G+ profile photo changes, and and other such actions not native to the G+ stream (the “social network” part of Google+ where people post and comment). Note that this determination was made by direct examination of the G+ profile for each of the tested users.
- Adjusted Percentage of All Tested – Percentage the Adjusted Count represents of all the profiles we tested.
- Adjusted: Extrapolate Across 2.2B – Take the Adjusted Percentage of All Tested Profiles and multiply that by 2.2B.
To explain a bit further, G+ critics are quick to point out that much of the activity on G+ is a result of activities not native to the stream. For example, all YouTube Comments, YouTube video shares, profile photo changes, and certain other activities show up as posts in G+. For that reason, we want to be able to show a number of people who are actively engaged in the Google+ stream interface itself.
Now let’s walk through the rows one by one.
1. Active profile stats: Following up to our last table showing the No Content profiles, it left us with 49,975 that could be considered active. That is actually 9.7 percent of all tested profiles (and 9.9 percent of all valid profiles). If we extrapolate this out to 9.7 percent of all 2.2B Google+ profiles, that would suggest more than 212 million people who have had some level of activity on Google+.
2. 50 or more public posts ever: This is all the Google+ profiles that reported 50 or more posts via the G+ API. This ends up being 0.3% percent of all tested profiles, and would extrapolate to 7.67 million users. This total gets adjusted in the “Adjusted Count” column, and the revised extrapolated total ends up being 6.66 million users.
3. Users with 50 or more public posts, posted in last 30 days: We also looked to see how many of these people with 50 or more total posts had also posted in the last 30 days to see if they are still active on G+. To cut to the punch line with the adjusted totals, this nets out to 3.54 million users.
4. 10 or more public posts ever: Reducing the bar a bit further, the count of people with 10 or more posts ever shows an adjusted total of 21.8 million users.
5. 5 or more public posts ever: At 5 or more posts, our number is 32.9 million posts.
6. 1 or more public posts ever: Finally, for people who have ever done a post in the G+ stream, the adjusted, extrapolated total nets out at 111.9 million in total.
7. Show 0 public posts in this pass: Of the 49,975 that appeared to be inactive, 7,493 of them showed no public posts on their profiles. That equates to 15.1 percent of the profiles that were originally marked active. It’s possible that these are users who have posted privately on Google+. This may be by choice, or user error, where they unintentionally posted privately.
8. People who have not posted publicly on G+: Adding the people who “Show 0 posts in this pass” to inactive profiles, it looks like 91.8 percent of profiles have not posted publicly on Google+.
Here is the extrapolated estimate of numbers of public posting profiles by amount of posting expressed in a graph:
Public Posting in Last 30 Days
Next up, let’s look at who has posted publicly within the last 30 days. Now that you are familiar with the definitions that I’m using, this should be an easy read, so I’ll cut to the chase:
Our extrapolated total suggests that about 23.4 million people have put public posts on Google+ within a given 30 day period. There is a hyperactive group of 358K+ people who do 50 or more public posts per month. After adjustments, we see these two numbers drop to 16M and 106K respectively.
These numbers should give you a good sense of what’s really going on in the G+ stream at this point.
Note that we also found that a small percentage of the total profiles examined currently return 404 errors (which means that the page does not exist), suggesting that the accounts have been abandoned or shut down. Here are the stats for that:
The invalid profiles may include profiles that were robotically created in attempts to artificially game Google+. Those of you who are active on G+ are familiar with your follower count dropping at those times when Google clears a bunch of these out.
Here’s a graph of the amount of public posting in the past 30 days:
Private Activity on Google+
One common speculation is that Google+ has a large amount of activity that is kept totally private. It’s hard to measure that, of course, because it’s private. However, following up a suggestion on a method for doing that by Edward Morbius, I did a fairly extensive analysis.
Basically, this involved comparing the 42,282 accounts that showed public activity in our full survey with 42,282 accounts that showed no public activity at all. While we can’t see the details of any posts, many of these profiles do show follower and/or user counts.
The concept is to compare view counts of those profiles/ public activity with those that show no public activity. In theory, this will allow us to estimate just how much private activity there is going on. (For an explanation of what triggers view counts, click here.)
Here is a summary of the raw data:
I think the most important line is the last one. People showing public posts on their profile averaged more than 45,000 views per profile. People showing no public posts on their profile averaged just under 2,000 views per profile.
This would suggest that the incremental usage levels of people who do no public posting at all might be about 4.3 percent. It is important to note that this does not include “lurkers,” people who regularly view Google+ posts but never post themselves, publicly or privately.
Are the Days of the Google+ Stream Numbered?
A post on this topic demands a section like this, since the G+ stream is the social media network that media and bloggers love to declare as “dead” more than any other. At a cursory glance, our data seems to confirm the many voices out there who have been proclaiming Google+ as either dead or dying for at least the past two years.
If the public activity on Google+ really is this small, surely it can’t have much value to Google, and they must be planning to shut it down or dismember it, right?
Let me provide the simple one word answer to that question: NO. It’s not dead, and I don’t think they are going to kill it any time soon. You can see my full analysis of this in a post I wrote over on Copyblogger: 10 Key Factors That Will Determine the Future of Google+
Here are some of the most important factors that G+ critics overlook:
- +1 Buttons – Our study did not in any way examine use of the +1 buttons. Just as the Like button is a huge part of the activity on Facebook, the +1 button is a major component of Google+, and its value is quite real.
- Lurkers – All social networks have a substantial number of people who simply lurk, or who may just comment on or interact with the posts of others. So when you see those huge numbers on other social networks and want to compare it to what you have seen in this post, just keep in mind that it’s estimated that 90% of the people who are listed as active on Twitter or Facebook are probably just “Lurkers” as well.
- Fully integrated – Google+ shows every evidence of being part of a much larger plan/vision. This is why it’s so integrated into Google’s other platforms, such as YouTube and Google+ MyBusiness.
- Personalization – This is one of the most powerful aspects of Google+. Google is personalizing its search results based on your activity on G+. This allows it to improve its search results for you, and leads to it being a driver of incremental revenue as well (because personalization leads to higher ad click through rates).
- It’s about the data – To me, this is the major punchline. Social media is a large data source, and Google is determined to play in this sandbox. Don’t spend your time thinking about when Google is going to kill the G+ stream, because I don’t believe that’s going to happen. Instead, the drive at Google is to figure out how to grow it and make it more successful.
In addition to these four reasons, Google employees continue to make public statements about plans for Google+.
In a recent interview, Google’s Sundar Pinchai disputed the notion that Google+ was a flop:
“Google+ has always meant two things for us,” Pichai said. “There’s the stream in the product that you see.” But Google+ also provided a way for the company to ensure users were signed in to its services with “a common identity across our products,” he said. “The second part was in many ways even more important than the first part. That part has worked really well for us.
But Pichai said that two important parts of Google+, Photos and Hangouts, may soon be separated from the main product. “I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area,” he said.
Another recent interview published on Medium was with Demis Hassabis of DeepMind, an AI company acquired by Google. The interview was done by Steven Levy, and one of the key interesting comments Hassabis made about plans to show off their technology was this one:
In six months to a year’s time we’ll start seeing some aspects of what we’re doing embedded in Google Plus, natural language and maybe some recommendation systems.
As I suggested in the last of my five points above, this sounds more like a plan to double down than back off!
So there you have it, a deeper look at what is truly going on within the G+ stream. Yes, it’s small, but it’s vibrant. You must take into account comments, use of the +1 buttons, and lurking activity to have a fair comparison with other social networks.
For example, if you estimate that 90 percent of a social network is in some form of lurking mode, you get some sort of idea where things are with the G+ stream overall.
Thanks are due to Edward Morbius for his original review of 2820 profiles, which led me to do this more comprehensive study.
And, as always, thanks to Mark Traphagen for his ongoing insights into all things Google+.