You’ve probably heard it a million times: Google+ is a ghost town.

Heck, I’ve said it myself. It is a ghost town. Google might claim 170 million users, but because anyone with a Google account – you know, Gmail, YouTube and so on – is effectively bolted on to Google+ automatically, it’s debatable how many of those folks are truly active. And because Google isn’t exactly forthcoming with key data, like actual usage statistics, or session length, it all feels a little duplicitous. Sneaky, even.

So what do we know? Back in February, independent data suggested that users spent just 3.3 minutes on Google+ in January, compared to 7.5 hours for Facebook. Now, a new study has revealed just how ineffective Google+ is as a social sharing platform, certainly compared to Twitter.

Social media research firm Umpf analysed 100 random online entertainment, health, business, technology and general news stories, taken from websites including The Independent, Telegraph, Forbes, CBS News, Evening Standard, Mashable and TechCrunch, and tracked how many times each story was shared on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter. The only criteria was that each site had to use the social sharing buttons of these four platforms.

Why that order? Reported numbers of active users. Facebook has 955 million (although 901 million, the official published figure at the time, was used when this analysis was taken), Google+ has “170 million”, LinkedIn has 161 million and Twitter has 140 million.

And the results? Twitter won by a country mile. For every 100 million users on Twitter, some 197.3 people were likely to share an online story. That might not sound like much, but it was almost five times that of Facebook (41.8 people per 100 million), almost thirteen times that of LinkedIn (15.2 people per 100 million) and 33 times that of Google+, which rated just 6 people per 100 million.

Why is this bad for Google? Because if Google+ users aren’t actively sharing content via the +1 button like other social users, despite boasting a network that’s second only in size to Facebook, something is off. And when it’s this off, when Google+ is this far behind, it all looks very dubious indeed. You could excuse a slight difference, but 33 to 1? Somebody at Google isn’t telling us the whole story.

Here’s a nice infographic to illustrate their findings.

Here’s the thing: some people on Google+ have very active, very engaged timelines. And they’re very passionate about how Google+ works for them. But this is almost the textbook definition of a woods for the trees scenario, and one that’s far from the experience of your common or garden user – aka, most people – who hold Google+ up against their streams on Facebook and Twitter and see nothing but tumbleweed.

Like I said way back when,  Google+ is no Facebook killer. It’s no Twitter killer. Heck, it’s already being lapped, credibility wise, by Pinterest.

Does that mean it has no place on the table? Not necessarily. This is Google, after all. This is their best attempt at social and, having failed twice before, it would be serious egg-on-face if they throw in their cards a third time. So, things might change. Google+ might actually get active. But will it ever “beat” Facebook? No, it won’t. Facebook won’t be around forever, but it isn’t going to lose to something that’s so decidedly wet. If it was going to happen, it would have happened before now. We’d be seeing the signs. We’re not. All we’re seeing is general indifference.

Right now, the reality for the majority of people – the vast majority – is that Google+ is a ghost town. It is really, really quiet, with almost no activity for the bulk of users. Who, because it’s so dead, rarely go back, thus maintaining the ever decreasing cycle. Yep, it’s self-fulfilling to an extent, but you can’t blame the public for that. They’re a fickle bunch, at the best of times. And when it comes to social media, and certainly en masse, they’re rarely in the habit of giving platforms a second chance.

(Source: Umpf.)