Is Google a virtual ghost town? That's what the Wall Street Journal describes after spouting the latest numbers provided by comScore Inc. The new data shows that visitors using personal computers are signing up with Google's social network, but only averaged 3.3 minutes per month between September 2011 and January 2012. By comparison, users spent five to six hours on Facebook each month during the same timeframe.
However Reuters points out that prominent social media companies typically fall short of Facebook's triumphs anyway when using the minutes-per-month measurement. Yet these competitors still keep their visitors lurking longer than three minutes. Even MySpace, which has 27 million fewer visitors than Google+, manages to keep its guests entertained long enough for them to spend almost three times as much time per month.
A Google spokesperson said it's difficult for any third party research firm to monitor or measure the performance of Google+, as it's more than a mere destination site. "Google thinks about the service not as a site but as a deepening of its relationship to billions of existing users who are already committed to Google's services like Search, YouTube, Android, etc," the spokesperson said. "By this measure, engagement is already enormous."
To Google's defense, the comScore report merely focused on visitors using personal computers, and didn't consider mobile coverage. Yet that may have looked even more negatively on Google's numbers, as Facebook has a large and active audience on the mobile platform. Both Facebook and Google+ offers apps for Android and Apple's iOS as well as HTML5-based web apps loaded in mobile browsers.
The problem Google+ clearly faces is that consumers may not want to build their contact lists from scratch all over again on another network. And while Google+ does offer some unique features like Circles and Hangout, analysts and consumers alike claim the distinction just isn't enough to lure them away from Facebook.
"Nobody wants another social network right now," said Brian Solis, an analyst at social-media advisory firm Altimeter Group, when speaking with the WSJ. He added that for those who already use Facebook, Google really hasn't communicated what the value of Google+ is, why it's better.
Sure, Google has spent money on its own advertising, reaching out through magazines, newspapers and TV, but it may not be enough. Google may need to throw some punches and explain why Google+ is better than its rival. Until then, Google's social boat may have a hard time finding passengers despite the entertainment on-board.
Even social game developer Zynga, which offers CityVille and Zynga Poker on Google+, said it noticed the slow growth without revealing the actual numbers. "So far, Google+ is a nice platform but it's been slow on the uptick with users right now," said John Schappert, Zynga's chief operating officer.
Other Google partners have expressed their concern about the growth, reporting less-than-hoped results.
"[The company's Google+ account is] not as great as we were hoping it was going to be," admits Ekaterina Walter, who manages Intel's presence on social media sites. 360,000 Google+ members have signed up to receive updates from the chip maker, whereas the company has nine million "fans" on Facebook.