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Google+ fervor may be making Facebook nervous

Google+ may be getting enough attention to make Facebook, Twitter anxious

July 12, 2011 03:51 PM ET

Computerworld - Just two weeks old, Google's social network is generating a tidal wave of curiosity and excitement. And that level of interest may have social networking giants like Facebook and Twitter getting a little anxious.

"Google+ is getting a lot of attention, particularly in techie circles," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Since these are the circles that Facebook and Twitter employees circulate in, all of this attention must be causing them at least a little bit of anxiety."

He added that no one at the other social networks should be in a panic, but they should be paying close attention to the momentum that Google+ seems to be building.

"We're not talking 'waking up in the middle of the night screaming' anxiety," said Olds, "It's more of the 'tossing and turning before falling asleep' variety at this point."

After launching as an invitation-only field trial, Google has left its Invite mechanism open for a few more days. Users are finding slews of notices that new people have joined the site and have added them to their circles. Headlines are popping up proclaiming on both tech and mainstream news sites that Google has overcome its social networking slump, while other sites focus on Google+ taking on Facebook, or Google+ taking on Twitter.

Google+ is filled with posts from users commenting on the new service, offering tips to other users and making suggestions to Google. Some comments include tips on how to organize contacts or how to scroll to the next post in a user's stream. Users are also posting funny videos and cartoons about Google+ taking down Facebook and Twitter.

A Computerworld reporter has been receiving requests from colleagues and total strangers who want an invitation to join the new social network.

"I think Google is playing the 'exclusive club' card very well with Google+," Olds said. "It's really helped them create some buzz around it."

More buzz went up this week when an unofficial study was posted claiming that Google+ has already grabbed 10 million users.

Google has not released any statistics about the number of people who have joined Google+. The company has remained tight-lipped about everything from the number of users to bugs that Google engineers might be finding in the system, or about any upcoming changes.

But that hasn't stopped people from making educated guesses about the number of users. In fact, at least one person has spent quite a bit of time trying to calculate the number. Paul Allen, the founder of Ancestry.com (not the Microsoft co-founder), has been receiving a lot of attention on Google+ for his estimate that Google's social network already has about 10 million users.

According to Allen, who based his numbers on a complex calculation of U.S. census data and the 100 to 200 most popular surnames, the number of Google+ users worldwide hit 7.3 million on Sunday. That's up from 1.7 million users on July 4, which would represent a 350% increase in just six days, Allen wrote.

"I project that Google will easily pass 10 million users [Tuesday] and could reach 20 million users by this coming weekend if they keep the Invite button available," Allen wrote on Google+. "As one G+ user put it, it is easy to underestimate the power of exponential growth."

In an email to Computerworld, Google would not say if Allen's numbers are accurate or even in the ballpark. A spokeswoman simply said the company has not disclosed any numbers.

But Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, noted that it's a testament to how interested people are in Google+ that someone would go to such lengths to come up with a user estimate.

The people who use Google+ are giving that estimate a lot of attention. As of 11 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Allen's post had 109 comments, and it had been shared 1,000 times.

Ten million users is a mere drop in the bucket compared with social networking giant Facebook, which confirmed last week that it has surpassed 750 million users.

However, if Allen's figures are close to accurate, it means that Google+ is seeing some very strong growth. And that bodes well for a social network that must wage a decidedly uphill battle in taking on Facebook.

"I don't think it's impossible for Google+ to have hit those numbers," said Gottheil. "Given its high profile and the now open invitations, it could well be true."

Bill Gross, the founder and CEO of IdeaLab, a business incubator based in Pasadena, Calif., also got attention on Google+ when he predicted this week that the social network will go from zero to 100 million users faster than any other service in history.

"People are engaging with it like crazy," said Gross in a wall post. "Now it's not completely fair, since when Facebook started, and when Twitter started, etc. those were tiny companies, and Google is huge. However, the product is extremely well executed, and a lot of people are smitten."

While Gross doesn't say his prediction is based on any statistics, his post received more than 120 comments and was shared by 431 people.

Gottheil noted that just because Google+ is getting a lot of attention, it doesn't mean that people are dropping Facebook or Twitter by the wayside.

"These are tire-kickers," said Gottheil. "There's no reason to believe these people have stopped using Facebook.... People aren't switching, and I don't think they're committing. It makes sense. Right now, Google+ is just a collection of possibilities."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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