Is Google+ Momentum Slowing? Report Says Visitors Spent Less Time on Site

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Buckle up, we may be entering the first slump in what could turn out to be a bumpy growth ride for Google+, Google’s slim and scrappy social-networking response to Facebook. According to analytics firm Experian Hitwise, the average time users spent on the fledgling service fell last week in the U.S.

Time to sound a collective ruh-roh? Is the infatuation phase over already?

(MORE: Report: Google+ Soaring with Upwards of 20 Million Visitors)

Google+ launched on June 28, 2011 as an invite-only “field test” and more or less roared off the block, quickly capturing millions of users and—according to web-tracker ComScore—soaring to 20 million “unique visitors” in a record 21 days.

Not so fast, says Experian Hitwise, which reports Google+ traffic last week was actually down. Not only did users spend less time on the site, but the service saw fewer visitors stop by as well, dropping 3% to 1.79 million in the U.S. for the week ending July 23. That’s compared to the prior week, ending July 16th, when Google+ enjoyed 1.86 million visits. The average visit time dropped from 5 minutes, 50 seconds to 5 minutes, 15 seconds, week-on-week.

Don’t make too much of the back-step yet: Experian Hitwise rep Matt Tatham says “This is not a huge drop.” After all, it’s only 3%. What’s more, while the web-tracker sourced its data from ISPs and some 2.5 million users, it admits it’s not figuring in mobile or third-party app traffic, which could account for part (or all) of the apparent slump.

That said, Google+ faces an arduous and lengthy all-out-war to win over social network buffs (most of all, the Facebook faithful). Contrasted with Google+’s estimated 20 million users, Facebook claims its active user count is over 750 million. That’s not just a mountain, it’s an entire range.

(via Bloomberg)

MORE: That Was Fast: Facebook Bans Google+ Ad

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.