We'll know how competitive when Larry Page adds Mark Zuckerberg to his 'enemies' circle.
Having only launched midway through 2011, it was impossible that Google+ could have ended the year remotely close to tipping Facebook off of its lofty pedestal. Given Mountain View's prior success branching out beyond its area of expertise, it isn't unreasonable to think that Google+ will ultimately go the way of Google Buzz. Indeed, research published this week by Nielsen Research indicates that Google+ saw an average of 8,207,000 visitors a month compared to Facebook's vastly more substantial 137,644,000. Then again, that Facebook average is over a 10 month period, while Google's total covers only 4. And if Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com and 'unofficial Google statistician' (but no relation to the Microsoft co-founder) is correct, Google+ has nowhere to go but up.
Allen's research, a summary of which has been posted to Google+, indicates that in the short amount of time the fledgling Facebook-killer has existed, it has shown substantial month over month growth. Total Google+ registrations were approximately 10 million by the end of July, 2011. That total doubled by the end of August to 20.5 million. On October 14, Larry Page announced that Google+ had 40 million registered users. Allen's research shows that by December 1st, the total had climbed to 50 million. While the climb from 40 to 50 million between October 15 and December 1 appears to represent a slowing down of new registrations compared to the previous month and a half, December has turned out to be huge: 12 million new people created a Google+ account between December 1st and December 27, a whopping 15% of the total number of registrations since June, bringing the end of 2011 total to 62 million.
62 million people may be dwarfed by Facebook's gargantuan 800 million estimated users, but it's a great start. Allen estimates that G+ will have 65 million accounts mid-way through January and pass the 85 million mark by March 1. However, his other predictions about subsequent growth may seem a tad optimistic, particularly his contention that G+ will finish 2012 with 400,000,000 users. That kind of staggering success seems unlikely; Facebook didn't hit 100 million people until 2008, 2 years after opening registrations to anyone with a valid email address. Their main competition was the increasingly moribund MySpace, and it wasn't until Myspace began a rapid, inexorable decline that Facebook became Facebook. Unless Zuckerberg has plans to replace Facebook's current stealth privacy-violation scheme with an ad-laden, browser-crashing, eye-gougingly ugly interface, Google has some decidedly stiffer competition.
Still, not bad for a very work-in-progress attempt to go after Facebook where they live. Particularly for those of us who prefer it. Now if only Google could be tempted to revert to Gmail's classic look...