Monday, July 4, 2011

Google+ Circles Simplified

While Google Hangout is a unequivocal home run, Google+ Circles have a lot of people (including myself) scratching their heads.

Courtesy mbensen on YouTube

After 2 days of using Google+ in the limited testing phase, it seems that we need 2 sets of circles:

  1. Circles to filter the feed (flood) of posts in Google Stream- this is mostly a convenience issue.  Depending on your mood and available time you can decide to see few, some, more or all the posts in your stream.  My guess is that I will create circles for this somewhat like this:
    1. Priority (Not sure of this yet) 
    2. Educational and Engaging, 2-way conversations - folks that I tend to learn from or interact online in a meaningful manner.
    3. One way but informative - folks that generally provide useful information in posts but we don't usually have conversations.
    4. Casual  
  2. Circles to share information with. - This is mostly targeting and privacy issue.  You want to post information that is meaningful to the viewer and you want to decrease the chances of it ending up with inappropriate audiences.  The privacy is not water-tight and thus with very sensitive information, you want to avoid posting online - use some other medium.  Some examples of using circles for this purpose are, sharing the place and time of an event with local friends, or wedding photographs with family, making colleagues aware of a journal article published by one of the doctors, reminding members of a professional organization to vote on a political issue etc.
    Why should we bother to do this?  Why not just post publicly and leave the filtering to the reader?  If you think about how the clinical decision support system became almost completely impotent due to alert fatigue, we would not ask this question.  As the amount of data in people's information (Google) Stream becomes overwhelming, it will be critical to do our part in reducing the noise:signal ratio.  It is just part of being good digital citizens.  
A point to note.
All your circle names appear on the left side of the Stream.  Right now Google does not allow rearranging these.  You can be creative by adding a Digit in front of the names you want to show up at the top.  Thus  "1 Engaging&Entertaining will appear near the top after the 4 default Google circles (Family, Acquaintances, Following and Friends).  You can of course rename these or delete these default circles and then they go away or get arranged in alphabetical order. 


  1. Learning about this every day. Since we can filter the information going out. And also that that we receive, it seems that it might be easy to miss specific messages. I guess if my family do make it here that incoming circle is unlikely to be swamped... Although presumably it will also have any content that they share publicly rather that just with 'family'... So it may be pretty noisy too! The only way to make sure that people see messages might be to mention them, but then we're accepting the limited utility of circles again. We'll see:)
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Good points Anne Marie. I am basing this model on my experience with my contacts in FB and Twitter. I think I know who would go into most of the circles I describe and it might work for me. The re-sharing might throw a wrench in the model but not much. If a family/friend in Casual group starts sharing good stuff and we start engaging, would move him/her to Engaging/educational circle.
    If G+ does take off it might change the behavior of some of the folks (compared to how they use FB). That might mean more tinkering with the model, but that might be a good thing!!

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