Rather than dancing around the single "user" number, Google could give more direct usage stats by breaking it down by feature. 20MM on plus.google.com, another 30MM sharing content onto G+, another 10MM clicking on G+ results in the normal Google SERPs, and so forth. It's still not a complete picture, but it's a hell of a lot better than "enabled G+ once, and is currently active on YouTube" that they're reporting now.
I am inclined to agree with the conspiracy theory that if these secondary stats were any good, we would be hearing about them.
 The best kind of correct!
I don't think it's that simple. Google publishes very few figures that have to do with its core profitability. For example, number of searches a day is not reported. I doubt it's because that figure isn't any good.
Any user metric going upwards says "look, it's not a ghost town anymore" and drives future adoption.
What I mean is that even assuming that people believe google's statement of "it's not a ghost town anymore", they are probably not going to move until it actually stops being a ghost town.
On the other hand, if G+ numbers were good, they would definitely announce it to increase the hype and get more people to check it out, out of curiosity.
I agree that numbers would be good here: how many Likes (or +1's) are hit by users without other recent activity?
Secondly, Google has made it pretty clear that Google+ does not stand on its own. The "plus" is in the name after "Google". It's Google, plus. Google+ is just a frontend, an entry point. It's the Yahoo landing site for all of Google's services. Youtube, Google Search, Picasa, they are the "plus" in Google+.
Google+ is not and never will be (and never wanted to be) a Facebook. Google wants it to be a grouping of their services in a way that's easy to consume and share. I'll admit I didn't read the entire article, I skimmed it because there are about a billion points being made in the fashion of a one-man argument.
The entire article could have been just this one sentence:
And yes, Google+ is indeed a layer that goes throughout Google properties.
It is illogical for the author to be irritated by reality. Taking Google+ by itself and comparing it to Facebook is equally illogical.
Honestly I hope Google destroys FB but let's stop apologizing for their half finished releases. G+ was released 9 months ago. For 6 months they've defaulted new g-mail users to sign up for it. This is not a beta, full stop.
If it's unfinished, if there are no APIs, if they broke a lot of the custom apps that were made for their struggling social service with their month 9 redesign, those aren't things you make excuses for. Those are things you list as negatives.
When Minecraft was first released to play, was that broken? Was Notch making excuses when he said "I'm still working on it"? Was it not continuously updated. And he charged money for that. Let's not forget how long GMail was in "beta". Google does betas. They push unfinished products out, for free, and update them continuously until they are finished. That's not a negative, that's Google being Google. Anyone who's been on the Internet for more than a year knows this is how they operate, and that most of the time it ends up being pretty cool.
Don't use the "this service is beta" flag as an excuse for the flaws of Google+ and their (mostly horrible) redesigns of their core services. It's clearly not the old Google anymore.
Google Plus is not marketed as a beta product. With all the computer science-type smart folks at Google, I don't understand why big breakage is OK.
> They push unfinished products out, for free, and update them continuously until they are finished.
Well, it's not 'free', since the users are the product. And yes, some things get finished, other unfinished things like Wave just get cut at some point.
Did they break their published APIs? They've only ever published a handful of frankly useless API calls. If it was someone just scraping unpublished routines, that's hardly Google's fault.
Tell that to my new Google+ Cover Photo....
Even if all of your points are valid, you must admit they keep releasing numbers trying to show it's this super fast growing network, and yet you can see just by the number of sites that have a G+ button, that people are not even engaging in that level of activity. Pinterest on the other hand, which has actual user engagement is already starting to overtake Google on these little + buttons.
Those people simply aren't engaged in any kind of social layer, and yet Google is reporting them as if they are.
It might not be correct to measure Google+ as if it were a direct equivalent to Facebook, but that doesn't make the numbers they are releasing any less misleading.
I'd consider that "using" Google+ the way I understand Google+ to work. You don't need to use it as a Facebook in order to experience the "plus" in Google+ (criticisms about SPYW aside).
If they told us how many Google+ members use those results, and how often they are picked in comparison to the non+ results, that would tell us something that justifies using that definition.
As it stands, the numbers only tell us how many people clicked through a very prominent ad.
I perfectly agree and I have been saying that myself. But it's also true that Google+ does have a component which is comparable to Facebook. The main Google+ stream page, is not all of what Google+ is. But it is comparable to Facebook and other social networks.
And personally, I would love if Google gave me the real number of how many users are actually using that stream. How many are actively posting, etc.
They made this change a few weeks back and I honestly don't know why.
"Seems to me that continuing to count everyone who gets an Android phone or signs up for Gmail as a G+ user just invites people to pile on and point out how underwhelming G+'s userbase has been to date."
You can defend G+ being a beta release or fundamentally different from facebook and twitter despite aping tons of FB and Twitter features. What you can't really defend imho is the continued exaggeration of G+'s userbase. I'd guess over half of the claimed G+ userbase has never touched it. Many have probably never heard of it.
If you are running an identity service which provides more information for the targeting of advertisements, then you publish how many "enhanced" profiles you now have. What you are trying to do is reach the people who would like to do that kind of advertising. Every time that number grows, it's even more inviting to them.
G+ can succeed on their own terms even if nobody ever posts a single thing to it. If you've populated your profile with information, they have already succeeded.
But being able to use data available to ascertain when you're about to have a baby, on the other hand is immensely valuable.
In fact, when I worked at Yahoo (left about 7 years ago), Yahoo had a major project to analyze clickstreams where one of the goals was to determine when you were near certain "life changes" such as buying a car, moving house... and having a baby. Because they result in lots of related spending, more so than most other periods of your life.
And being able to tie product recommendations to your friends is also immensely valuable, because social proof is one of the strongest drivers we have for making decisions. The closer you can get to implying that all of someones friends thinks your product is really cool, the easier the sale will get.
What a wonderful observation.
If you accept the characterization that Google's "free" software product users (us) are called Google's (eye balls) product for its clients (advertisers), the intriguing question is just which (new?) "client" of Google is interested in us as identified individuals.
Besides, it was the Picasa-requiring-profiles thing which was going down when RNCH started. That Other Thing wasn't even ready for prime time at that point.
The topic of all three? That's right, you guessed it. Google+ itself.
A) They are too low for a user to engage anyone, which is simply untrue (I have lots of fun and engaging conversations - with strangers, often - on G+)
B) The product relies on a massive user base.
You'll have to ask Google about point B as far as profitability goes, but for me, point B does not apply because I don't care if my Aunt is on G+.
To me, G+ is a much nicer Twitter, and a way to organize and meta-tag my contacts. Nothing more. I use it every day and I am happy with it like that.
I would be very sad if G+ ever became like Facebook (which, in my very cynical opinion, is basically a 'happy birthday' rotary club & dating service).
It just looked like an endless rant deviating from the numbers that google was not publishing to the comparision with Facebook to the actual realization that G+ may not be a _ghost town_ and back to more google bashing.
-1 if I could, but I can not.
As I understand it, Facebook counts anyone who clicks a like button on any website as being an active user for the month too.
It wouldn't shock me if, as non-Facebook user, if they counted my visit to a public event page as me becoming active too.
Monthly Active Users (MAUs). We define a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through our website or a mobile device, or took an action to share content or activity with his or her Facebook friends or connections via a third-party website that is integrated with Facebook, in the last 30 days as of the date of measurement. MAUs are a measure of the size of our global active user community, which has grown substantially in the past several years.
Sounds like clicking a like button on a site.
To answer some comments, I think they are plenty of ways Google can share meaningful, easy to understand stats about G+, if they wanted to.
They hate the PR nonsense that Google's feels is neccesary to abstract away the fact that they're tiny compared to Facebook.
I do too, it feels dishonest. You don't need to post the same numbers as Facebook. No one is expecting you to. So stop lying with statistics. It's like, Do No Evil is officially gone. Maybe a few white lies here and there never hurt anyone, right?
Pundits have confused social networking with Facebook to the point where playing games or up voting articles is social networking because that's something that Facebook does. Nobody considers XBox live a social networking site, but people do the same things on Facebook and that counts.