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Study shows weak Google+ public activity, but what does it mean?

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A new report from Fast Company claims that Google's still having issues getting users to engage with each other on Google+.

Google+ web app iPhone iPad
Google+ web app iPhone iPad

Google's doing everything it can to help Google+ take off — the iPhone app and web version of the site both just underwent major redesigns, and the company continues to add features at a rapid pace. However, these improvements don't matter if people aren't using the service, and a new report from for-profit analytics firm RJ Metrics claims that Google's still having issues getting users to engage with each other on Google+. Through usage data based on a random sample of 40,000 Google+ users, RJ Metrics found that public posts on Google+ have fairly low engagement — the average post has less than one "+1" (Google's answer to the Facebook "like"), and roughly 30 percent of users who make a public post on the site never make another one. The study also found that users who make publicly viewable posts typically only do so every 12 days on average, and even those who have made five public posts have a 15 percent chance of never posting again.

It's important to note that RJ Metrics tracked only publicly viewable posts on Google+ — so any posts that users made and shared only with certain friends or circles are not included in the study. That puts a pretty strong bias on the data, to say the least, and Google agrees. In a statement to Fast Company, Google said that that "by only tracking engagement on public posts, this study is flawed and not an accurate representation of all the sharing and activity taking place on Google+." It went on to say that "more sharing occurs privately to circles and individuals than publicly on Google+," and noted that the ability to segment who you share certain things with was the whole point of Google+.

Despite Google's objections, this new data does provide another example of weak Google+ user engagement, echoing an earlier study that show users spend significantly less time on Google+ compared to Facebook. Given that Google won't provide its own active user numbers, the data that is available doesn't paint a very positive picture. Whether or not this means that there is real trouble for Google+ is unclear — until the company shares its internal engagement numbers, most of these reports are an exercise in speculation. Still, that speculation is mostly negative right now, which isn't a good sign for the burgeoning service.