The word around the Web on Google+ right now is that the Google+ party is over, exactly one month after the social network first opened up to a trickle, and then flood, of early adopters. But it’s just not true: Google+ is far from dead.
What’s mostly fueling the (now, negative) hype is a report from online intelligence service Experian Hitwise that shows visits and time spent on the site decreasing.
Visits to Google+ decreased three percent to 1.79 million in the U.S. for the week ending July 23, according to Hitwise. Though that’s not a very drastic drop, it’s a wildly large shift compared to the week before, when Google+ visits increased 283 percent.
Average time spent on the site fell 10 percent to just over five minutes.
So is this the end? Not at all.
Judging just about any website purely by one or two benchmarks, especially when one of those is “visits,” is silly. Doing it for a social networking site is downright insane. While visits and time spent might be down, let’s take a look at another marker: sharing, or referrals.
After Fab.com announced its $8 million Series A funding round earlier this week, CEO Jason Goldberg revealed that the news sparked Fab’s “biggest traffic day yet.” Leading sources of traffic, after email and direct, were the three social networking strongholds: Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. In that order.
Facebook accounted for 12.7 percent of traffic, Google+ did 4.8 percent and Twitter did 4.7 percent. With five percent of Twitter’s membership, Google+ resulted in slightly more traffic referrals than the microblogging darling. With slightly more than one percent of Facebook’s membership, Google+ is over a third of the way toward matching the social behemoth’s referrals.
That’s, to put it lightly, kind of incredible. And it falls in line with data from three weeks ago, when the Google +1 button on the Web was already killing Twitter’s resharing plugins.
Google+ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In regard to the drop in visits, we should have expected that after so much early buzz:
“This is normal, huge hype bump,” wrote Digg founder Kevin Rose, “then comes the valley of real core users. The true trend up or down won't emerge for another 6-months.”
(Notably, Rose is also co-founder and CEO of a new startup called Milk and he participated as an angel investor in Fab.com’s Series A.)
Calling Google+ a Facebook or Twitter killer is still premature at this stage, no matter what the data says. And calling it another Wave or Buzz is probably just as unfair. The truth is that Google has actually created a viable social product this time, but its success, which will only be seen through time, will be completely dependent on its ability to sustain engagement and meaningful data like the above traffic referrals.