Can Google+ Outgrow Facebook By 2016?

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An analyst at Searchmetrics is making a bold claim about social networking, saying that Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) social networking site Google+ will outgrow Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) by February of 2016.

Searchmetrics presented the data in a blog post on their site. While acknowledging that Google+ is still miles behind Facebook, the research group claims that Google+ is growing much faster than Facebook is or ever did, and that growth could allow Google’s competing social network to catch up to Facebook quickly. The firm sites Google’s strategy of linking its products together, making it nearly impossible not to use all of Google’s services if you use any of them, as the reason Google+ has grown so rapidly.

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Searchmetrics explained how it crunched the numbers to get such a surprising estimate, “The basis for the calculation are the percentage growth rates of the two networks of the last 6 months, referring to the rise of social signals or, more precisely, only the shares.Over this period, Facebook saw a monthly average growth of almost 10 percent, while Google+’s average grew by almost 19 percent per month (again, we refer to U.S. figures). These values form the basis for our forecast.”

The main problem with pitting Google+ against Facebook is user engagement. While you may automatically get a Google+ account when you sign up for Gmail or activate your Android smartphone, it doesn’t mean you are going to use it, and many people allow their accounts to sit idle. Searchmetrics acknowledged this problem, “The fact that Google+ percentage grew much stronger than initially proposed is especially surprising. However, the activity of users on the Google network is much more behind…Concerning both absolute numbers of social signals and the activity of users, Facebook is seemingly indisputably ahead.”

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Other analysts had some harsh words for Searchmetric’s conclusions. “That is idiotic,” Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter told MarketWatch, citing the fact that Google+ users are on the site for an average of 11 minutes per month, while people use Facebook an average of 400 minutes each month.

For now many are viewing the estimate with skepticism. Unless Google can get Google+ users to actually engage with the site instead of just forcing a Google+ account on everyone who wants to use Gmail or Android, then it’s unlikely Google+ will surpass Facebook anytime soon.

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Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS