Google+ is rapidly approaching the 50 million user mark, just days after launching to everyone in open beta, according to unofficial number-crunching from Internet entrepreneur Paul Allen.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Sept. 20 launched a broader search functionality and several new features for its popular Google+ Hangouts group video conferencing application. New Hangouts tools include screensharing, Google Docs integration, live broadcasting and Hangouts for Android smartphones, among other improvements.
The biggest news that day was the launch from limited field test to beta, according to Google Senior Vice President of Engineering Vic Gundotra, who is leading the charge to make Google+ a household name as an alternative social network to Facebook.
Allen, who has been calculating Google+ user growth by counting surnames, said that the network grew 30 percent just two days after its launch to beta. Specifically, he calculated Google+ membership at 28.7 milluion users on Sept. 9, with that number soaring to 37.8 million users through Sept. 22.
Accounting for private user profiles and non-Roman surnames, which are not represented in his surname counting model, Allen said he believed Google+ to have roughly 43.4 million users. That's a nice, robust figure.
Allen explained that for this count he updated his model to use 400 uncommon surnames in the United States, which he said also reflects usage in many other countries.
His earlier estimates in July, in which he had Google passing 10 million users on July 12, did not address either private profiles or non-Roman alphabet. However, through July 19, comScore placed Google+ at 20 million users.
Regardless, 30 percent growth for a Website that some declared to be dead, dying and a ghost town is no mean feat. For perspective, it took Facebook three and a half years to reach 50 million users. Google+ has grown that large in less than three months.
Now for some key caveats. Allen, founder of Ancestry.com and current CEO of FamilyLink.com, has always admitted his numbers are not all inclusive.
He noted that on FindPeopleOnPlus.com there are substantial numbers of users from Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and many other countries, whom his surname counting does not include.
To wit, he is allowing for a 15 percent error probability factor, 5 percent for private profiles whom he cannot account for and 10 percent for Google+ users with non-Roman surnames.
Moreover, Facebook, whose main functionality Google+ appeared to copy, is evolving with a Timeline user interface that lets users surface their life's history of stories, photos and videos on one Webpage. Many experts said this could help Facebook distance itself from Google+.
However, Allen, who published his post before Timeline was unveiled at F8, said in his post he believes users may not cotton well to Facebook's frequent user interface changes. He cited a survey from Mashable and angry tweets from users fed up with Facebook's steady stream of changes.
By contrast, he feels Google's discipline in keeping a minimalistic design will help it gain more users:
"I think the tens of millions of people who will be signing up for and using Google+ will find that changes here will be very well thought out, very iterative, very carefully tested, and won't be nearly as jarring as the changes that have been made at other social networks. Google is not in a rush to change the world. They are on a steady course to do so."
Perhaps, but Facebook now has 800 million users. Grumble as they might at the privacy and UI changes Facebook makes every few months, the users that comprise the vast social network stick around.
That's user engagement, and by extension social advertising opportunities, Google can only aspire to at this stage.