Where Is Everyone on Google+?

I was in a hangout last night with +Amanda Blain, +John Fanavans, and +Brett Bjornsen, among others, and in a discussion about Google+ usage we got to wondering about where all the users are. There are something like 50 million Google+ users, but if I look at all the shared circles, recommendations, mentions, and other indicators of who the "good engagers" are, there are probably a few thousand people that make up that set. Every shared circle of "You should circle these people" contains a subset of this same core group of people. Out of 50 million users this seems like a ridiculously small number, and I think one of three things is happening.

One possibility is that there are 50 million user accounts, but the vast majority of those don't actually use the service. +Britney Spears is the most-circled account, with about 1.1 million circlers. I suppose it's possible that 20% of active accounts have her circled, and thus only 10% of total accounts are actively used. It may simply be that the few thousand heavy engagers are carved out of a much smaller pool than the 50 million would imply.

Another possibility is that the vast majority of users are using the service differently than the heavy engagers. When I first heard of Google+ back around June, the number one thing that made it stand out in my head was the fact that you organized your contacts by circles, so that you could post your party pictures to your friends and your boss wouldn't see them and fire you over them. There have been enough Facebook-related firing horror stories over the past couple of years that the idea of segregating content seemed very desirable. In practice I found that I enjoy posting primarily publicly, but perhaps most of the 50 million users mostly have circles of their real-life family and friends and are happily posting privately to each other about their daily lives and for the rest of us it's none of our business. If so, that's a fine thing and I'm glad that people are using the features they want the way that works for them.

The third case, which I find both least likely and most appealing, is that the group of a few thousand moderate- to heavy-engagers I'm familiar with is only one such set on Google+. Maybe there's another pile of thousands of people, all of whom are aware of and interact with each other, and there isn't overlap between those groups. The reason I find this less likely, of course, is the Recommended Users list and the Most Circled list. Everyone has access to those, and the set of heavy users we're in includes the membership of those lists. The reason I find it still possible, though, is that perhaps there are multiple sub-groups hanging off the most-circled users. +Tom Anderson and +Trey Ratcliff each have well over a half-million people circling them. Maybe that includes the thousand engagers with whom we're all familiar and another segregated thousand engagers who don't overlap. Perhaps those guys would have some insight as to whether that's the case, based on their comment interactions. Even though I don't find it likely, I find that I want it to be true, because that leaves open the possibility of discovering another huge group and suddenly having a new treasure trove of engagers open up. I'm envisioning bright golden sunlight bursting through as the explorer crests a ridge and sees the unexplored green valley below.

I'm sure that Google has some insight on this, and maybe +Natalie Villalobos could answer the question. Or maybe this can prompt them to ask the question in the first place.
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