Since its inception, it has been tough to tell just how well Google’s social network, Google+, is doing. Every time Google+ releases a new set of user number statistics, their accuracy and methods are almost immediately called into question.
According to information released on Thursday, it seems that skepticism was well warranted.
As Efrati wrote, citing anonymous sources, and Google confirmed to AllThingsD, the “stream” is more broadly defined than one would think. It also means clicking on the little red bell or share icons you see across all of Google’s properties.
Quoth Google, in a statement to AllThingsD:
“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.”
To be fair to Google+, yes, you can still reach and use Google+ from all other Google sites. Click the bell when you’re in your Gmail account screen and you’ll indeed be presented with a small, stream-like view of Google+ content. It’s possible that people are sharing from there.
And what’s more, competitors like Facebook also define monthly active users fairly broadly. The numbers include people who use third-party website widgets to share — the “Like” or “tweet” buttons you’ll see on sites like ours, for instance.
The problem is, as Google presents it, we can’t tell if users actually intend to use and share on Google+, or if they’re just clicking on the notifications bell to get rid of it — glaring red and bright against the plain white and gray background of Google’s properties.
So this leaves us, the critics and skeptics, back at a bit of a loss. Perhaps there are a significant number of people actively using and sharing on Google+ from other Google-owned sites.
Or perhaps it’s as dead as lots of people like to joke it is.
We just don’t know. And until Google decides to break down specifically how and from where people are visiting “the stream,” I doubt we’ll ever really have a notion of the network’s health.