Why Google+ Circles has it wrong. Sort of.

Google+’s Circles sound like a fantastic idea. Here is an easy way to sort your friends out. No more sharing nightclub pictures with your ten-year old friends! You can pick and choose which sets of your friends you want to share with.

When I first set up my Google+ account, I sliced and diced my friends into all sorts of categories. But then, when I went to share something, I couldn’t really remember who was in each group. And in fact, I just wanted to share with almost everyone. It wasn’t long until I went back and deleted most of my circles. I have now narrowed it down to basically 3 that I use: People I follow (I don’t share with this group — I just read what they have to say and possibly comment), people I share with just about all the time (basically, my “friends”), and professional contacts (with whom I might share something business-related, but nothing personal).

Guess what? With the exception of the Following group, this is exactly how I have Facebook configured. I know I am not alone in this: having the ability to micro-dice my audience hasn’t turned out to be that helpful, most of the time, and in fact, it’s kind of exhausting.

I have been pondering why circles have turned out not to be very helpful, and I think there are two primary reasons.

1) Google+ is not a reciprocal environment. I may put you in a circle determined by whether I want to share with you — but you may not even be following me! So my circle isn’t accomplishing what I want it to do. In this, it is more like a Twitter list than a sharing circle.

2) To me it’s all about Persona, NOT about Audience. Depending on where I am and who I am interacting with in real life, I take on a different persona (or, if you prefer, different aspects of my persona). Here in this blog, I am a social strategist. Elsewhere I may be the mother of a kindergartener, or a neighbor, a friend, or a colleague. In each of these contexts, my persona shifts slightly. I am more likely to share some things and less likely to share others. Neither Facebook nor Google+ facilitates shifting into different Personae, because I don’t always know who is interested in which aspect of my persona.

I thought about this recently when I wanted to share on Facebook that we had been assigned the kindergarten we had hoped for. This post received something like 30 comments and likes from all different people. Had I chosen who I should share with (a school friends circle perhaps?), many people who actually were interested never would have seen the post. OK, maybe they were humoring me, but still, do you see the point?

I want circles to work in the opposite way — I want people to be able to opt into my different personae or circles or whatever you want to call them. Imagine if I had a set of public circles where I could share around topics that were appropriate in that context. Just as at a PTA coffee klatsch I would only share certain aspects of my life, and at work I might share a different set. The set of people that I would share with in each environment aren’t organized around a specific interest — they are contextual. I know who I am in each context, and behave accordingly.

I’m not saying that this is easily doable, if it is even possible. I am just saying this is why Google+ Circles don’t work — for me. They are backwards. I am trying to share to people who may or may not be interested (or even listening), so in the end I share to most, and follow others.

Those of you really paying attention may have noticed that I have posted little to Google+. That is a whole other issue — I haven’t yet figured out what I would share there that I don’t already share on Facebook or Twitter. This post maybe?

But when I do share there, you can bet that it will be one of three ways: to friends, to professional connections, or publicly. My other circles? Just filters for the stream.

Are circles working better for you?



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