I praised Google+ last week for being less about personal branding and self-promotion and more about actually engaging with real friends. Now that the new social network has had a week and a half to gain traction, a few initial stats concerning the Google+ user base are leaking out. The most striking: 88 percent of Google+'s trial users are male, according to SocialStatistics.com.
Google is calling this statistic baseless. Jim Prosser, a Google spokesperson, says though the company hasn't crunched the numbers yet, there's no evidence that this gender divide exists.
"It's not like Google is socially engineering the site," Prosser says. "What's happening is that people are seeing prominent personalities on the site, who are active and early adapters of the tech world and are also male. So it's creating an impression that the site's very male." He's right: The top 10 most-followed users are all men.
Prosser says that these outspoken users are the ones who may be publicly "sharing" and getting followed the most, but that there's a whole other world that the general user pool doesn't see. "There's sharing that happens through circles that are not exposed to the world," he says.
"I don't know where this 88 percent number is coming from," says Deanna Zandt, author of Share This! How You Will Change The World Through Social Networking. "I can't imagine what numbers SocialStatistics are using," unless they've gone through to try and physically count all the current users, of which there are currently 12,414. "My guess is that these numbers are flawed, since Google hasn't released that data and there's not an API with which to scrape data."
Furthermore, Zandt says, "amount of followers has nothing to do with usage, and doesn't necessarily reflect influence." Men on social networks are twice as likely to follow another man, she adds, but "I'm of the school of thought that the number of followers isn't what matters, it's how tightly you manage the relationship with your followers, and the degree to which they're engaged."
Of course, Google+ is not yet open to the public; its initial run is populated through a chain of invites. Google+ has described these first users as people with strong "social graphs." This mostly constitutes members of the press and, as Prosser put it, "people who were identified by Googlers [Google employees] as people they'd want to interact with, and who were able to provide really good feedback." In other words, journalists and "tech influentials," both of which are visibly male-dominated groups.
Tech and media gender parity, along with the process in which people are deemed "influential," are certainly important issues. But in the long run, they will probably have nothing to do with Google+'s eventual makeup. Zandt says women are equally, if not more, represented on most social networking sites. In fact, she says this kind of armchair theorizing nine days into the site's launch is patronizing.
"People are already saying that my mom won't join Google+," she says. "That's just a sexist assumption. I'm pretty sure that if I and all my friends join Google+, my mom will, too."