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BLOG: Claim: '83% of Google+ users are inactive' Reality? Nope

Sharon Machlis | Aug. 20, 2011
'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? doesn't say what it means by its active and inactive designations -- nor does it even mention that particular info in its own recent Google+ Statistics Report. Bime skirts this problem with the caveat "We are not sure how these figures were determined, but it was amazing to see that 83% of users were classed as inactive." In other words: We have no idea what this number says, but never mind! Wow! (I expect their commercial Business Intelligence service isn't quite that cavalier about how it uses data.)

But back to FindPeopleOnPlus. I searched for a few people I know who use Google+. I'm listed as active, so that's accurate. But by search #5, I found one of my friends listed as inactive, even though she has been posting from time to time -- in public a couple of weeks ago. Hmmm. A 20% error rate in my (non statistically valid) random sample. Not to mention all the other users who may be posting (or commenting) in private.

I commented about the inaccurate inactive listing both on Peter's Google+ posting and in one of my own. I also headed over to the original story and posted a somewhat caustic comment (in a tone that Web-based comment threads somehow seem to bring out, even in those of us who generally pride ourselves on more civil discourse) about the 83% stat coming "from garbage data."

Bime's response in the GigaOm comment thread:

[W]e understand your concerns as we were also really surprised to see the high number of 'inactive' users, but since this was the only data we could find on the subject we decided to add the line about not being sure how it was determined in order to clarify that the data may not reflect reality, and not lead people to take the data at 100% face value. We are waiting for a response from findpeopleonplus as to how they came up with this figure. So please sit tight and we'll try to clarify soon…

Seems like it would have been better to find out what the data actually meant before reporting on it, but OK, at least they tossed in a scrap of a question in their blog. The resulting story simply claimed "A silent majority exists -- in a big way" on Google+, no caveat at all.

To her credit, story author Colleen Taylor responded to me on Google Plus (although not GigaOm yet) that the data criticism "is totally warranted. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Bime about the figures." She's still not going to the original source of the data, FindPeopleOnPlus, but at least she was acknowledging the data questions had merit.


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