Watch out Facebook, Google Plus is on your behind

Watch out Facebook, Google Plus is on your behind

Despite being written off by many as the least hip club in town, Google+ has secured itself the number two position on the social media food chain, according to UK research firm Trendstream.

Trendstream's Global Web Index report for Q4 2012, found Google's social network increased its active user base in the year up to December 2012 by 27 percent to 343 million users, behind only Facebook, which it estimates has 693 million active users. The report defines active users as those who "used or contributed to [the network] in the past month".

YouTube, another Google product, comes in third with around 300 million active users, followed in fourth place by Twitter, with 288 million active users.

This might come as a shock to those of us who treat Google+ like the last kid picked to play, but others have approached the platform's potential with more of an open mind.

Venture capitalist Brad Feld, who co-founded Foundry Group, describes Google's long game with social networking as "brilliant". Feld points out that many web users are already well absorbed into the Google ecosystem, and the social network platform is slowly but surely connecting all the pieces of its puzzle over time.

"Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week," says Feld.

Google has already started the process of consolidating users across Google+ and YouTube, by allowing connected accounts. Those who don't have a Google+ account are encouraged to use their real names on their YouTube channel, no doubt a path towards connecting the large number of YouTube users to Google+ in the future. 

Google+'s resurgence comes at a time when Facebook fatigue is setting in around the world, including in New Zealand where the network has lost more than 8000 13 to 17 year olds in the last three months (although it did gain more than 13,000 over the age of 55). 

Dr Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, says Facebook isn't immune from becoming a fad and going into decline, much like MySpace did four years ago. 

Speaking at Computerworld NZ's ITEX technology conference last year, Cole said the popularity of social networks in the last decade has followed a predictible pattern of massive growth, then splintering into smaller niche groups. He says Facebook is already showing signs of following this pattern.

"To a teenager an online community is like a night club, when the night club becomes too popular or the uncool kids start showing up you're out of there," he says. 

"What's the worst thing that could happen to a teenager in a night club? Their mother walks in. Now your mother wants to friend you in Facebook."

Perhaps now is the time for Google+ to strike?