Because +Mike Elgan knows how to very throughly and accurately tell #lazyjournalists how to shut the hell up. 😉

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What to make of the misleading comScore report.

Analytics firm comScore did a report on usage of social networks, and The Wall Street Journal did a big story on it.

Long story short: It's a good story about a misleading report that appears to show that Google+ is a "ghost town" compared to Facebook.

This characterization stands in stark contract to the actual experience of active users. To many of us, Google+ is a frenetic hive of activity, and we struggle to keep up with it all. This — — is a "ghost town"?

By the way, Google+ is a fantastic site for beautiful and haunting photos of actual ghost towns:

The most damning numbers from the report are that the average Google+ user spends three minutes a month on the site, whereas the average Facebook users spends up to seven hours per month.

Here's why it's misleading. Google+ members fall into two categories: 1) users; and 2) non-users.

Some unknown number of people have signed up for Google+, and use it. Some other unknown number of people have signed up and don't use it.

Why would people sign up for Google+ and not use it? There are lots of reasons. They just wanted to look. They wanted to grab their name. They're just agreeable, and Google pushed them into it.

The fact is that millions of people are signed up for Google+ and don't use it.

The 3-minutes-a-month number is derived by factoring in users with non-users. Without knowing how many people are non-users, the result is perfectly useless. It tells you literally nothing.

Let's say for the sake of argument that 100 million people have signed up for Google+ and that on average they use the service three minutes a month.

That means there are 300 million man-minutes of Google+ use per month.

One possibility is that 100 million people are each using the service for 3 minutes a month.

Another possibility is that 1.25 million users are using Google+ eight hours a day, seven days a week, and the rest are never using it.

That's the range of possibility. There are somewhere between 100 million and 1.25 million actual users, and somewhere between zero and 98,750,000 non-users. This is what comScore's results tell us.

See how meaningless it is to average users and non-users without knowing how many of either?

The reality is almost certainly that there are tens of thousands of people like me who use Google+ seven days a week, more than 12 hours per day. That number is growing.

There are tens of thousands more who use it every day, for 8 hours or more. That number is growing.

There are millions of people who use Google+ as much as the average Facebook user does. That number is growing.

And the majority of people who have signed up never use the service. That number is also probably growing.

Another misleading quality of the comScore report is that Google+, a social network that opened to the public five months ago, is being compared with Facebook, a social network that has been open to the general public for six years.

I would love to see a comparison of Google+ today with Facebook in 2006.

Needless to say the obvious, but I'll do it anyway: Building friendships, loyalty and activity takes time. Size, activity and all other social networking metrics are primarily a function of time spent on the network. Everything goes up every day.

Imagine a marathon where each runner started at a different time. Runner B starts the race two hours later than Runner A. After Runner B has been running for ten minutes, is he an inferior runner than Runner A because he's 20 miles behind?

That's what the comScore report is implying. It's ludicrous.

Having said all that, the Journal makes some good points. They point out that Google hasn't succeeded yet in conveying to the general public what's compelling and different about Google+. But they also point out that Google is working on it, with mainstream TV advertising, for example (which I think are very good ads).

The bottom line is that comScore's 3-minute result tells us precisely nothing about the activity level or future prospects of Google+.

Now, if you'll excuse me, my notifications box says "34." I've got to keep up with all these friendly ghosts.

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