Google+ has suffered a setback after a month of meteoric growth. Traffic to Google+ declined last week, as did the amount of time people spent on the site, according to Experian Hitwise.
Hitwise says traffic to the Google+ website fell by 3 percent to 1.79 million US users during the week ending July 23, following a 283 percent rise the week prior. Average time spent on Google+ fell 10 percent to 5 minutes and 15 seconds, Bloomberg reports.
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The estimates from Hitwise require one big asterisk: Hitwise doesn't measure visits through mobile apps or APIs, so any use of the Google+ app for iPhone or Android isn't being counted. Given that the Google+ iPhone app launched last week and quickly rose to the top of the App Store rankings, there's a good chance that mobile users displaced the losses that Hitwise is reporting. Google has also been purging business accounts and fake names, which could contribute to the losses.
Even so, for a service that's only one month old, a drop in website traffic and engagement is troubling. Google+ seems to be suffering similar growing pains as Twitter, in which a lot of people check out the service to see what the hype is about, but quickly lose interest. That's certainly what I've observed with friends and family who joined Google+ but became inactive users soon after.
But Google+ is different from Twitter in that it's designed to hook into other Google services that a lot of people already use on a regular basis. As I mentioned when Google+ hit 20 million users, the service's potential lies in its ability to extend users' social circles to products like Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube. The inevitable addition of Google+ games should also keep people coming back. And of course, Google+ is still invite-only, limiting the total number of people who might join the service.
So don't sound the alarms just yet. Google+ still has a lot of potential, but in its early stages, pulling people away from Facebook and Twitter isn't going to be easy.