Google+ may be a ways off -- a long ways off -- from unseating Facebook, but it's not exactly a ghost town, either. U.S. visits to Google's still fledgling social network exceeded 61 million in March, up 27 percent from February.
That's according to Experian Hitwise (report not available on the Web), which shared its figures with me by e-mail. Here's how Experian reckons the growth in Google+ visits since its inception last June:
Just to be clear, Experian Hitwise defines a single "visit" as any period in which a user stops by a site and then returns within 30 minutes. So if you read or posted on Google+ for a bit, then hopped over to Facebook for 25 minutes, and then came back to Google+, that would still count as a single G+ visit. Stay away for 31 minutes, though, and the next time you come back counts as a second visit.
Google CEO Larry Page, by the way, claimed yesterday that Google+ has well over 100 million "active" users, though he didn't define what "active" is supposed to mean in this context. ComScore recently reported that Google+ users spent just 3.3 minutes a month on the site in January.
So, a few caveats about those numbers. First, as noted, they only account for U.S. visits. Second, they don't include visits from mobile devices or traffic driven by the Google+ notification bar (that red number that sometimes shows up at the top of your Gmail or Google Docs screen).
Third, while growth in Google+ U.S. visits seems strong, it's oddly lumpy. The network previously saw big jumps in September and again in December, but in between those big months things were largely flat, at least in Experian's estimation. In the entire first quarter, for instance, U.S. visits only grew 23 percent, largely because visits actually fell from December to January.
While this won't exactly surprise anyone, Google+ also remains way behind Facebook. Experian Hitwise says Facebook's U.S. visits in March totaled 7 billion -- more than a hundred times what Google+ saw.
That said, by Experian's reckoning, Facebook has been on a downward slide in the U.S. for much of the past year. From its recent peak last July through March, Facebook's U.S visits have fallen by a fairly astonishing 1.3 billion -- a 15 percent drop.
Again, these figures don't include mobile visits, so you wouldn't want to overinterpret them. Still, that's a lot of missing clicks.
It's also still a bit humbling for Google+. Put it this way: since last June, Facebook has lost 20 times as many monthly U.S. visits as Google+ has ever seen -- and hardly anyone noticed. (Facebook's would-be IPO investors certainly haven't.)