'83 percent of Google+ users are inactive' screams a headline on a well-known tech site. But where does that number come from? How is inactive defined? Is it accurate?
The answer to that last question looks to be a resounding no. But that hasn't stopped several well-respected Web sites and social media players from passing it along.
I first came across the story on Friday via IT World blogger Peter Smith on Plus, and he was not one of those forwarding it along as if it were true. Instead, he complained that if there had really been a survey of 10 million Google+ users, surely someone he knew would have been asked.
A survey of 10 million Google+ users? That would be quite an undertaking; I know how much work we go through to poll fewer than 10,000 for Computerworld original research. Could that have happened under the radar, without any of the journalists on Plus hearing of it in progress? That didn't sound right.
The story on GigaOm said that 83% of Google+ users are inactive, a figure that came from "Bime Analytics, which polled a voluntary sample of more than 10 million Google+ users." So, off I went to the Bime Analytics blog; but Bime wasn't the original source of the data after all. Instead, Bime was looking at numbers from FindPeopleOnPlus.com, reporting the data as a "voluntary sample [not survey] of around 10 million Google+ users." Ah, that made more sense. So, off we go to that original data source to discover where the number comes from.
It doesn't appear that FindPeopleOnPlus is "surveying" anyone; nor does the site depend on people "voluntarily" adding themselves to the directory. Instead, it likely gets its information from a Web scraper that grabs all the public Google+ profiles it can find, with a privacy option of allowing people to remove themselves from the index.
FindPeoplePlus has a fair amount of data that looks useful, as far as a Web scraper can deduce from public Google+ profiles: gender (especially back when Google+ required public reporting of gender; it no longer does), education, occupation. However, the numbers for activity, with an alleged 12 million "inactive" and only 2.5 million "active," are, to be charitable, open to further scrutiny.
First of all: How is active defined? Does it mean posting in public? If so, how often? If people post only to their private circles, can FindPeopleOnPlus.com see that? What if people just comment instead of post, does that count as active? What about logging in regularly to read but not post; does that count? If you're comparing with competing social networks, readers-only should count as users: Facebook counts you as "active" if you've logged in at least once within the prior 30 days -- no content-creation required.
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