NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to web sites and apps, active users totals issued by companies are often hard to interpret, unreliable or just plain jacked up.

But you wouldn't know it from reading the business media, which tend to pass the count along unquestioned--to the detriment of those who want to know what's really going on.

What is really going on, for example, with Google ( GOOG - Get Report)? Well, it's hard to tell, at least if you read much of the business media. Marketwatch ( NWS - Get Report), for example, mentioned that Google CEO Larry Page "touted" the performance of Google+, the company's social media effort, but gave no fill-out.

The Wall Street Journal went the more typical route. They noted that the service has "more than 90 million users, up from 40 million three months ago, and 80% of those users 'engage' with their accounts every week." Still, that's not enough. How is engagement defined?

In the second paragraph of an excellent story on the issue, All Things D writes: "Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to find the Fountain of Youth than get apples-to-apples metrics about Web site and app usage." Indeed.

With Google, it's hard to tell with a degree of certainty. But it appears to All Things D (and me) that if you registered for Google+ and used another Google product while still signed on, you're counted in the number of active Google+ users. This is not total gamesmanship on Google's part. They are trying to get users to use multiple products. Still, the percentage of active Google+ users probably is not as breathtaking as it first appears.

We know that registered users counts are bunk. A lot of users register and never come back. But even active user counts are open to interpretation. Always proceed with caution, even if the media don't.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page.

For his "Business Press Maven" column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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