Google + Circles: The Basics

by on July 6, 2011

Like so many other Social Media addicts, I managed to get an early Google + invite and have been playing with the environment. It’s kind of hard to get a really good handle on how this will fare, though there are plenty of “gurus” who can tell you why it will succeed, or why it will fail. I chose to cover my bases:

I’ll leave it to more capable folks to make a bold prediction. Instead, I thought I would share some of what I have learned so far.

I really like the UI design of Google +. They appear to have done a fairly good job giving the UI depth. By that, I mean the basics are simple and reasonably intuitive, but you can dig deeper to use more advanced features. Now I did say fairly good job. I have been hearing some confusion from some of the folks I have connected with regarding how circles works. With that in mind I though I would do a couple posts on Google +’s (wow THAT looks weird) Circle feature. In this one, I will stick with the basics.

Circles in The Stream

Everyone now, to the tune of “Islands in the Streams”…

Circles in the Stream
That is What They Are
No one else appears
Now You Can’t Go Wrong

OK, first and foremost circles are about what appears in your stream. When you add people to any one of your circles, their posts begin to appear in your stream. It doesn’t matter which circle you add them to, they appear in your stream. If you are a Twitter pro, think of it as a follow, only you categorize who you are following (more on why later). These names are private, no one sees that you assigned them to the circle Nut Jobs I want to Keep Track Of.

This part of Google + works very much like Twitter. You do not have to be accepted to follow someone like you do on Facebook. Now, there is no guarantee you are seeing all of their posts, but any they choose as public will appear to anyone who checks their profile, or adds them to a circle.

All of your circles appear in the left column. This can be helpful when you want to focus on one of your circles. Let’s say you have way too many folks in circles, and your stream runneth over. You can click on any circle to see just posts from those circle members. For example, clicking Family shows just posts from folks in your Family circle. Of course mine is empty right now:

So, first purpose of Circles is to control how you see the world. This is a lot like a Twitter Follow and List mashup. But there is more.

The Circles of Trust

The next level of circles is about who you trust. If you post everything as Public then Circles have no impact on what you share, essentially you are using Google + like Twitter, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, Google + allows you to further define how to share a post by selecting just the Circles you trust.

If you specify a circle, only folks in that circle see that post in their stream. Or more accurately, it will appear in their stream (no guarantee they won’t miss it).

This is a really cool twist. If I set up my circles properly, I can control who sees my initial post. So, if I have circles for Cincinnati, Instructional Design, Photography, and Really Stupid Puns I could put only those folks who appreciate my really stupid puns in that circle, and when I share one, only share with that circle. You can put folks in as many circles as you want.

Another option is if I am planning a surprise party. I can create a circle for Neil’s Surprise Party with everyone invited, but not Neil. I could post any updates or questions, and folks can feel free to respond with no worries of Neil catching wind on Google +.

Besides sharing to a circle, or a a group of circles, I can choose:

  • Your Circles: shares will all of your circles
  • Extended Circles: shares with all of your circles as well as anyone in their circles
  • Public: shares with anyone who has you in a circle, or looks at posts in your profile

Circles of Distrust

Now keep in mind, Google is about sharing. Just because you share with a circle doesn’t mean they can’t share it with others. The Post is labeled in grey “Limited” as opposed to “Public”, and they are warned if they try to share it, but they are not stopped:

Also, the person who you shared it with can see who else it was shared with simply clicking the Limited text:

Now there are ways to fine tune this, but that is more for another post “Google + Circles: Intermediate”. To give you a taste, I’ll add one going beyond the basics step.

Controlling A Post

After you share a post, you can edit it if you found a typo, delete it, disable comments, or disable reshare. So, if you don’t trust the limited circle to Neil’s Surprise Party to not accidentally share the secret post with him, you can prevent a reshare in Google +.

So that’s the basics. What do you think of Circles? What do you want them to do?

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