One wouldn't think a company stocked with geniuses who excel at achieving algorithmic excellence would have trouble deliver statistics. Even so, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) managed to confound some folks with its Google+ usage statistics.
On the company's fourth quarter earnings call Jan. 10, Google CEO Larry Page was quite clear that the Google+ social network had topped 90 million total user accounts. Considering the six-month-old network only opened to the public in late September, such growth in social media is unprecedented.
Where Google's accounting gets fuzzy is in user engagement, or how many people are actively logging into Google+ to post status updates and share links, photos and videos. That's the metric social media experts are most interested in, and fairly so considering rival Facebook's social engagement disclosures.
Facebook said half of its 800 million-plus users log into its Website on any given day. That's an incredible 400 million-plus users coming to chat virtually or share info each day. Facebook offers this oft-updated stats page as a beacon against all social network challengers, loading it with such metric morsels as the fact that the average user is connected to 130 friends, family members and other people on the network.
The average user is also connected to 80 community pages, groups and events on Facebook, where some 250 million photos are uploaded each day. The fact is, we don't know how often Google+ users come to the Website each day, or what exactly they do there and how much.
On the earnings call Jan. 19, Page further muddied the murky engagement waters when he added that "+users are very engaged with our products--over 60 percent of them engage daily, and over 80 percent weekly."
Google Senior Vice President Vic Gundotra, who is shepherding Google+, later confirmed on Google+ that what Page referred to was that 60 percent of Google+ users sign in to use other Google products, such as Gmail, YouTube, etc. each day. And 80 percent of + users sign into Google to access those apps at least once a week.
AllThingsDigital cut through the cluttered meaning: "So, if you registered for Google+ any time since it launched this summer, and you used any other Google product - say, search! - in the past day or week, while signed into your Google account, you got counted in those percentages."
In other words, there is no clear indication of how much people are using Google+ to share information, play games, communicate, collaborate or do any of the things they are meant to do on the platform.
Skeptics call this misdirection. Those who know Google's oft-stated agenda to seamlessly integrate and blend Google+ with its existing services to build a social super platform know that Page's statement isn't deliberately confusing.
Every single one of the 200-plus Google+ feature enhancements serve as a stepping stone to the end goal of creating a social search platform capable of keeping users engaged and, ostensibly, away from Facebook, Twitter and other like services.
"Google+ is about much more than the individual features themselves," Page explained on the call. "It's also about building a meaningful relationship with users so that we can dramatically improve the services we offer. Understanding who people are, what they care about, and the other people that matter to them is crucial if we are to give users what they need, when they need it."
This effort, which includes the controversial social search effort that injects users' personal Google+ content in their search results, is also the way Google plans to challenge Facebook for the lion's share of advertising dollars, which experts will be driven by mobile, local and social technologies in the future.
But Google+ has to produce some engagement. As John Battelle noted:
"It's pretty easy to get a lot of people signing up for Google+ if you integrate it into everything Google does (particularly if you do it the way they've done it with search) But can you get those folks to engage, deeply? That'd be a real win, and one I'd give full credit to Google for executing."
Wouldn't we all, assuming that win comes at the expense of incumbent Facebook.