Google+ is built around the concept of Circles. Building a social network on Google+ seems like a more conscious or intentional exercise because I can’t add someone to the social network without placing the contact into at least one Circle. Some privacy advocates see this as a benefit, but I can also see a potential downside to the way the Circles are used.
I can understand how Google came up with the idea of Circles for its social network. It’s not revolutionary–it’s just how people naturally compartmentalize life anyway. I have family, friends, old friends from high school or college, co-workers, former co-workers, contacts with similar music interests who I’ve never even met in real life, etc.. It is natural to segregate contacts from different facets of my life into their own groups.
When I write a post on Google+, I have to choose which Circles that information will be shared with. I can choose just one Circle, or multiple Circles. I can also choose to share with all of my Circles, or my extended Circles–which includes everyone in my Circles, plus everyone those contacts have in their Circles, or I can just make the post Public which means everyone who has me in a Circle will see it.
When it comes to sharing information, some things I might want to share with my family and close friends might be too personal for groups like “people online with similar music interests who I’ve never met in real life.” It is also possible that I might want to share the same information, but at different levels depending on the Circles.
For example, explaining that I won’t be going in to work Monday can have very different meanings depending on the Circle. I might want to let my “co-workers” Circle know that I’m not feeling very well and won’t make it in, and then let my “friends” Circle know that I’ll meet them at the beach, and I’m bringing the beer.
The fact that Google+ forces me to assign my contacts to Circle(s) means that I have to be more aware of the relationships I have within my social network, and actually put some conscious thought into how to segregate them, and which ones I am comfortable sharing more sensitive information with.
Sounds good so far, but I see some issues. First, it can be difficult to segregate contacts, friends, and acquaintances that way. I have a few very close friends who I just added to the “family” Circle, but beyond that defining a “friend” versus an “acquaintance”, or creating additional Circles in between can be very nuanced.
Once the basic compartmentalizing of relationships into Circles is completed, then I have to consider those relationships again each time I post information on Google+. Should the information I am posting only be shared with family and close friends? What about co-workers? Maybe it is OK to share with friends, but not acquaintances?
As I pointed out at the end of Day 3, the Circles are not unique entities. It is more of a Venn diagram where the circles overlap. My cousin might work with me, or my best friend might be on my golf team. Instances where one contact straddles multiple Circles exacerbates the issue because if the contact comments on, or reshares the information with their Circles, it may inadvertently end up being exposed to contacts I specifically chose not to share it with.
There are some options to let me restrict how my posts are shared, so it is possible to avoid that situation. We’ll cover the privacy controls another day, though.
I have created the Circles. If something comes up that I only want to share with my family, I have that option. In general, though, I only post stuff that I don’t mind everyone in my social network seeing. In fact, I don’t mind if my extended social network (my social network, and those in their social networks as well) sees it. I don’t know the exact figure, but based on the whole six degrees of separation thing I think it’s pretty much public at that point.
I don’t want to put so much effort into figuring out who should, or who will see a given post. I’ll just use Public.