Rocky Agrawal on Google’s sometimes misleading stats that make Google+ sound more widely adopted than it might really be:
Google is by no means alone in how it plays with numbers. This deception happens nearly every day and is especially rampant in Silicon Valley where new business models are created and standard metrics aren’t always available. It also reflects the optimistic nature of the Valley. We want to see exponential growth. We see hockey sticks everywhere. Even worse, these statistics get thrown around in the echo chamber and presented as fact. And as they get reblogged and retweeted, they lose the disclaimers that made them technically true in the first place.
The number of accounts created on a free web service is almost meaningless. Not only are some customers worth much more than others to a service, but a nontrivial portion of accounts on any free service often don’t correspond to actual humans using the service. Even if you somehow block all automated spam, spam-like human activity like bulk affiliate marketing will still distort the numbers. And a lot of accounts are duplicates created in error when people forgot about their original accounts or confused the registration form for the login form. Should all of these count?
When multiple services are bundled into one login, like Google’s, a very large portion of the bigger service’s userbase (e.g. Gmail) might not even realize that they have an “account” on the smaller one (in this case, Google+). Should they count?
Even for the real people who intentionally register to use the service, as this article points out, most abandon their accounts shortly after registering. I created an account to try Google+ and effectively abandoned it after a few minutes. I don’t consider myself a Google+ user. Should I count?
I prefer to gauge a social network’s success on more subjective factors: How many people do I know who use it? How much do I feel like I’m missing by not using it?