January 20, 2012, 2:38 PM

Google’s social network math is impressive, but fuzzy

The search giant offers a hazy view at how consumers are interacting on Google+.

By nearly any account, the growth of Google Inc.’s Google+ has been impressive. The fledgling social network, which launched in June as an invitation-only site and didn’t open up to all consumers until late September, already has 90 million users, Google CEO Larry Page told analysts yesterday when discussing the search giant’s fourth quarter financial results.

That pales in comparison to Facebook, which has 800 million active users—that is consumers who have logged on to the social network within the past month. But it represents substantial growth from the 40 million Google+ users the search giant said it had at the end of the third quarter.

Google has never publicly noted how many of its users are actively using the social network. And its spokespeople decline to comment on Google+ users’ engagement rate.

However, Page yesterday offered up a nugget aimed at those seeking to hear about Google+ engagement. “Engagement on Google+ is also growing tremendously,” he said. “I have some amazing data to share there for the first time: Google+ users are very engaged with our products—over 60% of them engage daily and over 80% weekly.”

Yet, that tells only a portion of the story. A user who has both a Google+ and Gmail account, but who has used only his Gmail account in the past few months, is counted in that tally.

That’s because Google views Google+ as a sort of social operating system that it is increasingly weaving into its various products. For instance, it recently added Google+ data into its search results.

“If you look at some of the things we've done, I think that if you look at in search, you can do a search now and get somebody's name and have that name really appear as a chip in the search,” said Page. “And that means that it's no longer a string that you're searching for, it's actually a real person. That notion of identity is really a deep, deep part of what we're doing. And it's an example of how we can make all of our products better by really understanding people.”

One reason Google dubbed its social network Google+, Page said, was that it enhances Google’s various other entities. “Other big companies that work on social data and so on, I think we've seen very much a general tendency to wall that data up and not make the data available, where we have publicly been able to access the data.”

By tying its Google+ into its other properties it will surely boost the gross numbers on the social network that it shares in its quarterly financial results. But it won’t necessarily spur people to use the social network.

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