Google obviously wants Google Plus to do very well. You can tell by how much they’ve leveraged their other properties to promote it, like YouTube videos, Google home page messages, rolling in Google Plus results into the standard SERPs, etc. But now they’ve taken the boldest step yet: tying Google Plus sign-up to new Gmail accounts. That’s right, you can’t get a Gmail account anymore without signing up for Google Plus.

New Gmail Customers Must Also Sign Up For Google Plus

New Gmail customers are now prompted on the second sign-up screen to create their Google Plus profile. It looks like this:

This is either the smartest move in the world, or the dumbest, and I’m honestly on the fence. On one hand, Google will get more of what we all know they value: gaudy stats. They’ll soon be able to claim that Google Plus has some huge number of new signups, and they’ll slap themselves on the back as they boast of membership growth.

On the other hand, skeptics and critics will have all the ammo they need to shoot holes in those gaudy numbers, because a great number of them will be inflated–many people will create Plus accounts on their way to the Gmail account they really want, but they’ll never use Google Plus.

Facebook is going to have a field day making Google Plus look like a dormant community with empty user accounts. Nevermind that Facebook (and MySpace, and everyone else) is the same way–with millions of dormant users.

Google already has trouble with claims they’re inflating their Google Plus numbers. Just last week they tried to claim 60% of users engage daily and 80% engage weekly. But they were so vague about what “engage” actually meant, that the tech news community started digging deeper and deeper into the bold claim. Turns out what Google really means is that 60% of Google Plus users engage daily with some kind of Google product (which could be YouTube, search, or Gmail). And that,ladies and gentlemen, is how you pull the rug out from under your own gaudy stats.

It’s been called everything from a stupid strategy to “intellectually dishonest.” Either way, they’re clearly trying to get people like me to blindly accept vague stats and write giant headlines proclaiming “OMG 60% Of Google Plus Users Engage Daily!!!!!”

Does Google Value Press Over Members?

What Google is really after, of course, is more than a gaudy statistic… they’re after real users. At least that’s what I presume. Their hope is that by forcing people to go through the setup of a Google Plus account, many will see something they like in the new social network, and might consider using it moving forward. But how many potential new customers will they drive away with the strong-arm tactics?

I just wish they could be honest about it. I just wish that while they’re trying to grow the network, they weren’t simultaneously trying to serve us up a false image of their current health. We all know you’re a young social network. No one’s expecting 60% engagement this soon. Calm down and grow slowly and surely… you’ll be fine.

I happen to think Google Plus has tons of great features going for it–video features alone ought to have all video marketers and creators checking it out. But instead of letting the features sell the service (or developing the lacking features users want), Google seems more interested in growing by statistical subterfuge than by actual usefulness, and I think that’s a shame.