Here is how Google explains the concept of Circles in Google+: “You share different things with different people. But sharing the right stuff with the right people shouldn’t be a hassle. Circles makes it easy to put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself, just like real life.”
OK. I can wrap my brain around that. I don’t usually announce everything I have to say to everyone willing to listen, and there are certainly many things I want to say to one group or person that I don’t want the rest of the world to see.
So, I can set up one Circle for work, another circle for family, another circle for close friends, one for a golf or bowling league, etc. Then, when I want to share information about a client or project, I can post it to my work Circle and not bore my friends and family, and when I want to post something about a birthday party for my kid I can post it to just the family Circle, or maybe family and friends Circles without sharing personal information with those I just work or golf with.
You can create any Circles you want to fit however you choose to organize or segregate the people in your social network. By default, Google+ starts with four Circles: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. Friends and Family are self-explanatory. Acquaintances is for people you know that don’t really qualify for the inner circle of “Friends”, and Following is for a more Twitter-like relationship where you follow and read the public comments from specified users even though they aren’t really in your Circles and don’t have you in theirs.
I added some accounts like Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg to Following. I assume they have no intention of putting me in their Circles, but I’d like to see what they post on Google+.
I just set up the Google+ profile yesterday, so my Circles are empty. Normally, Google+ will at least start by suggesting people from your Gmail, Android, or other Google services, but I set up my Google+ profile using a brand new Gmail account that has no other data associated with it yet, so Google doesn’t even know where to begin.
I clicked the link to connect to my Hotmail account and import contacts from there. That gave me a few hundred people to add to Circles, spanning the range of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and other such groups.
The problem, however, is that few–if any–of my contacts are using Google+ yet. I can still drag them into Circles if I want. What will happen is that when I post something to that Circle, contacts not set up on Google+ will instead get an email–ostensibly with an invitation to join the party on Google+. It is a creative way to enable me to go ahead and create my Circles the way I want, while also setting up a sort of self-perpetuating marketing and growth for Google+.
One problem, though, is that you have to have the right email address for the contact. For example, there are a lot of people in the contacts Google+ imported from Hotmail who actually have Google+ accounts already. But, because the email address I have associated with that person in my Hotmail contacts is not the email address they use for their Google+ profile, they don’t show up that way.
I don’t have any comprehensive way to know which of my contacts are already on Google+ and which aren’t, though. I decided to just drag the contacts I have into a Circle, so they’ll get an email when I post to that Circle. If they already have Google+ profile at a different email address, hopefully they’ll let me know.
The first time I dragged a contact into a Circle, Google+ displayed a pop-up message explaining some of the ground rules of Circle etiquette. The contact will appear on my public profile page–meaning others will be able to see that the contact is in my Circles. I can change that behavior to hide my contacts if I choose.
The message explains that by adding the contact to a Circle, the contact will see the updates I share with that Circle, and I will be able to see whatever information the contact chooses to share with me. More importantly, it describes what the contact will see. It says the contact will be notified that I have added them to a Circle, but the contact will not know the name of the Circle(s) I add them to.
Why is that important? Well, it can be a sensitive issue if I put someone in “Acquaintances” who feels they should be part of the “Close Friends” circle. Or, if there is someone I don’t really want to communicate with on Google+, removing them from Google+ entirely would be too obviously confrontational, I can create a Circle called “JerkFace” and stick him in there.
It is still difficult for me to go through my contacts and compartmentalize them in that way. Some are obviously “Friends”, and some are obviously “Acquaintances”, but there are a vast number of contacts that occupy the gray area between the two and make it difficult to assign them. I feel guilty enough for assigning labels to my personal relationships in that way. I don’t need to also deal with the backlash that would occur if the contacts could also see what Circle(s) I put them in.
More Like a Venn Diagram
One thing about Circles, though, is that there is overlap. For example, what if my best friend or cousin works with me? They would have to go into the work and friend or family Circles. What if a co-worker is also on my team in the golf league? That person would need to be in both the work and golf league Circles.
Conceptually, this still makes sense to me. In fact, I already manage my contacts on my iPhone and iPad using a similar concept in the VIPOrbit app–they’re just called Orbits instead of Circles. Being able to put a contact into more than one Circle has benefits, but it can also have some inadvertently negative consequences. We’ll cover that another day, though.