Google has done a really good job at getting people to sign up for a service they never use. Adding to the anecdotal evidence that there's not much of anything going on over at Google+, Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly used his massive G+ following to give the argument some data. Looking at the 560,000 people who have put him in his circles, Kelly has determined that over half of them are "ciphers," or in his words: "They have signed up, but have not made a single public post, or posted their own image or a profile, or made a comment. They aren't home." The meat of his findings:
What we found was that only 30% of Google+ers made any public activity. And 6% were outright spammers. So the good news is that spamming occurs at a low percentage (and as I said, Google does a marvelous job filtering it out), but the bad news is that most of Google+'s inhabitants are ciphers. Not there. Ghosts. 36% had not even filled out a profile.
That sounds like a compelling case against Google+'s success, and certainly mirrors our own experience of the site, which feels very empty.
However, the study does come with a few caveats. His assistant only looked at a small percentage of Kelly's followers, paging through 5 percent of a 5,000-person subset. "So I can't say this very small sample has any statical significance, but it may serve as a hint," notes Kelly. And, with such a big following, Kelly might attract a largerer group of dormant users than the average Google+ member.
Still, Google has yet to prove that anyone really uses the site, and evidence to the contrary keeps coming in. The company has released user "engagement" numbers with its earnings report, but a closer look at those revealed a loose definition of engagement, with the term meaning any usage of Google products while signed in to Google+. Back then, we noted that at this very moment we would fall into that category, with our open Gmail accounts automatically logged in to Google+. And the more Google connects all of its products to G+, the more it can make this claim.
Kelly doesn't necessarily see this cipher effect as all that bad, comparing it to Twitter, which also has a high concentration of dormant, fake or spam users. But, Twitter has proven itself useful in other ways -- aiding in some way to the Arab Spring, enacting social change stateside, and acting as a very useful news gathering tool. What have Google+'s ciphers done?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.