Is 2-Week-Old Google+ Nearing Critical Mass?

Well, it's official. Google+, which is just a bit more than two weeks old and still in its field trial, has gathered more than 10 million users.

That's the word from Google CEO Larry Page, who shared the official membership numbers for Google+ during the company's quarterly earnings call on Thursday afternoon.

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At least one industry analyst called it an impressive start for the new social network , which could become a major player in the social networking world.

"Google + is still only in field trial with limited access as we scale the system," Page said during yesterday's call. "However, the growth on Google+ has been great. And I'm excited to release some new metrics for you today. Over 10 million people have joined Google+. It's a great achievement for the team."

The official membership announcement came just two days after Paul Allen , the founder of Ancestry.com (not the Microsoft co-founder), made an unofficial estimate on the site's membership, based on a calculation he derived from U.S. Census numbers and popular surnames.

While Allen's numbers were unofficial and highly doubted in some circles, he was right on the money.

In a post on Google+ , Allen estimated that that Google's new social network already has about 10 million users. He also predicted that the site could reach 20 million users by this coming weekend if the site's invite process remains open.

Google has periodically shut off and reopened the invite mechanism as part of its build during the field trial.

"10 million? That's incredible," said Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst. "Well, maybe I'm not surprised. I've seen how viral this has become. Social media has really helped Google+. I've seen a lot of people tweeting about it and posting about it on Facebook . I think that drove adoption because those tools pushed more and more people to it."

And that would have to be frustrating for Facebook to hear since Google+ hit the social networking space as a direct competitor to Facebook . And while Facebook, with its more than 750 million users, is leagues ahead of its new rival, analysts say executives there must be anxiously watching the swift growth of Google+.

"I think Google+ has a lot of real promise," Kerravala said. "I think Facebook is most at risk. If Google comes out with functionality that Facebook doesn't have, I can see people switching allegiances. People are pretty finicky."

And that has to be welcome news to Google, which has had its fair share of social networking failures .

It's starting to appear that Google actually does have the chops, and obviously the financial backing, to put out a social product sweet enough to lure people, who tend to be creatures of habit, to spend less time with their traditional network and cultivate a new one.

It's been clear that Google+ has an uphill climb against Facebook, and even Twitter , but now it looks like the social network has some real momentum behind it.

"I think Google+ is good for the industry," Kerravala said. "It will step up the competitive nature. A market of one isn't very good. Having Google+ and Facebook both in this market will definitely push each other for future superiority."

Video: How to Set Google+ Privacy Settings

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

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