Google+'s Numbers Aren't as Impressive as Everyone Thinks

While millions wanted to check it out at first, traffic to the social network has already peaked and is smaller than that of competitors

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From the United States and India and Canada, from Germany and Brazil and Taiwan, users have been eager to join Google+, the social network recently launched by the search giant. The site has received 19.93 million unique visitors since debuting just three weeks ago, according to a report by comScore, a company that measures Web traffic in much the same way that Nielsen measures television ratings. While comScore's methods can be a little shady, the numbers have been backed up by research done by Paul Allen, Ancestry.com founder and unofficial Google+ statistician.

He doesn't have access to any facts or figures that the rest of us don't, but Allen has come up with a unique system that seems to be working: He uses a random collection of 100 surnames to estimate the size of Google+'s membership base. (He increased the number to 1,000 at one point to check the veracity of his sample size and found the difference in results to be statistically insignificant.) "With a surname sample size this large, the connection to what is really happening with Google+ user growth seems very tight," Allen said in a post on -- where else? -- his Google+ profile. "Within the surname set are popular surnames from many highly populated countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But we currently have no ability to count users in certain non-Romance languages."

Allen is watching closely for any official announcements from Google to get a sense of how accurate his model is. So far, the search giant's press team has been unwilling to give out any information beyond that which has come from the guy at the top: On Thursday, July 14, CEO Larry Page confirmed that the social network had more than 10 million members. Allen's figures suggested Google+ had reached that milestone a couple of days earlier, but Page may have wanted to avoid getting too specific. Allen is also hoping other amateur statisticians will make themselves and their data known so that they can compare methods and results.

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No matter how you measure it, 20 million or so visitors is a lot of visitors. But is it as big a deal as people are making it out to be? Yes, Google+ might end up being the fastest growing website of all time, but Facebook and Twitter primed the pump. Google+ and Facebook seemed to be locked in a war of sorts, with Google+ making it nearly impossible to import Facebook friends into its system and Facebook spiking ads for its competition. But without Facebook, which taught people, more than anything else before it, what a social network could look like online and how it could function, would so many people have jumped into Google's experiment?

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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