February 1, 2013

What Really Defines “Active” User In Social Networks

This week Global Web Index released a new report that tracked social network usage. What was not surprising is Facebook continues to dominate and actually accounts for about 51 percent of the total global Internet population.

That means half of all Internet users are on Facebook in some capacity. Coming in second was Google+, which was a bit surprising, especially as Google+ saw an increase of about 27 percent from the year prior and has a reported 343 million “active users.”

But this brings up a very interesting question — namely what defines an active user? According to Global Web Index, an “active user” is defined as “used or contributed to in the past month.” That sounds reasonable. But is it?

This reporter is actually a Google+ user and would be considered “active.” But I haven’t posted anything, connected with anyone or actively shared anything through Google+. So how am I an “active user” exactly? Well, because I have used Google Docs and I’ve used my Google+ account as a de facto sign in for some websites where I may have left a comment.

In other words, one who logs in to leave a comment for this post and does so with a social network sign-in, despite having never posted, tweeted or even visited that actual social network, makes one an ‘active’ user. Does this sound a little bit like the numbers are being skewed? Actually it does.

Even Global Web Index noted: “Google+, who despite being branded a failure or ghost town by large portions of the media, grew in terms of active usage by 27% to 343m users to become the number two social platform.”

Even those who track this sort of thing see this is a problem, but add, “This is also a key indication of why Google+ integrated with the Google product set is so key to the future of search and the internet.” In other words, for even the most anti-social social media types – like this reporter – we can’t help but be considered as “active” users, even when we’re really not all that active.

Does this give Google+ an advantage over say Facebook or Twitter? In some ways it does, and no doubt this is going to be a concern for Facebook, especially as it looks to get more users on mobile. Already the “social network” is worried about Facebook fatigue and saturation. Like any good pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme, Facebook can only succeed if it grows, and no doubt it is reaching saturation.

Many analysts that I’ve spoken with in recent weeks have commented as much, noting Facebook’s greatest threat is that it appealed to too many and in all likelihood grew too fast, thus becoming a site for parents and grandparents to connect. How else could it account for more than half of all Internet users?

But the question, too, is how many people are actually being counted as “active” that might not be? As noted, Facebook — as with Google+ — can be used as a way to sign in to comment on other sites. This likely does alter the numbers, and in this case only in Facebook’s favor.

The more telling number however is still Google+, which has reached that second place status. But every Gmail user, Google Docs user and many others are “active users” and like me probably really don’t use it much for being social — apart from sending and receiving email.

It is just a sign of the changing times. Now, what we really need is a true anti-social network for those of us who wish to communicate the old fashion way, like through mobile phones, email and blog posts. Of course, the real old timers once sent letters through the mail — now that’s just crazy!

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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