Google+ now has over 90 million users, as confirmed by CEO Larry Page. The user base has more than doubled in a span of three months. Some analysts are speculating that Google+ will hit the 400-million-user mark by the end of the year. To put this number in context, it took Facebook nearly four years to hit that mark – and Facebook, with its eight-year head start, is forecast to hit the 1-billion-user mark by August. The race is most definitely on, and both can claim advantages: Google’s built itself an in-house edge, while Facebook is miles ahead in daily-life integration (and, one would think, loyalty).
The spike of new Google+ users goes hand in hand with the boom of Android phone activations. The latest numbers from December 2011 show that there are 700,000 Android phones activated every single day – and what Larry Page isn’t saying about the Google+ user count is that it’s pretty darn inflated from these Android sales.
To access any downloadable apps for an Android phone, the user needs a Gmail account. Once that account is set up, all the user needs to do is download the Google+ app, click “install,” then “open,” and just like that, he/she is now an official Google+ user. With the recent update to the Android OS on Google’s flagship phone, the Galaxy Nexus, and upcoming phones, customers can bypass downloading the app entirely. The Google+ application is already preloaded on the Galaxy Nexus, just waiting to be clicked on and activated.
Does this easy sign-up process lead to a growing number of active users? Or do they simply sign up, check out the app, and run back to Facebook? It’s difficult to tell at this point due to the lack of actual usage statistics, but from my personal experience, I’m leaning towards the latter. I have made it a point to ask friends, family, and even the grocery store cashiers at my local Trader Joe’s if they signed up for Google+ and use it. The typical answer is, “I signed up, but I never use it.” Maybe I don’t get out much, but other than a few tech-savvy friends and social media professionals, I do not know many people who use it regularly. Perhaps by the holiday season, my experience will be different. With the U.S. population currently at a shade over 310 million, and Google+ being forecasted to have 400 million users by the end of the year, I am bound to work my way into a circle or two.
Facebook, of course, is already engrained in our everyday world. Whether it’s online, at a storefront, or at a bus stop, there isn’t a day that goes by where we are not asked by a brand to “like” them or “find” them on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and crew are well aware of the Google+ hype. I don’t believe they will rest on their laurels the way MySpace did when Facebook was the new kid on the block.
Facebook is constantly evolving despite resistance from some users. It is that continuous change that could very well play into Google’s favor. A future privacy issue here, a drastic user interface change there – a big enough false step can certainly spark an exodus. It’s painfully obvious that Facebook is asking everyone to share more of themselves everyday with everybody. Will they know when to draw the line? Or will they keep mining users for data until there is a revolt?
The fact that nobody I know is active in Google+ right now may not ultimately matter. They have the first step down in acquiring users at a torrid pace, but in my estimation it will take a major slip-up by Facebook for Google+ users to finally log in, hang out, and never look back.