A Thought on Google+ Circles – Privacy vs. Relevance

by sjledet on July 9, 2011

After a week on Google+, here’s my comment on Circles. What’s the point? (Groan). No really, what’s the point of circles?

It seems that Google has tried to put the privacy issue on the front burner as if the primary challenge facing people in Social Media is picking who gets to see their content. While there’s no denying that people don’t want everyone to be able to see all of their stuff and this has some legitimacy, for the most part, I think the bigger issue is one of relevancy. The need for relevancy typically trumps the need for privacy in most social media transactions.

If something is really private, I’m not going to put it on the internet at all. It’s too easy for it to escape whatever attempt at protectionism Google can implement with the circles concept. Between screen grabs and copy and paste, anything posted in a circle can easily be defeated so the whole concept is fundamentally flawed, and basically a smoke screen.

The bigger issue is one of relevance. Google+ has quickly become a massive wall where funny dominates useful. That can be a problem. People wear different hats. Sometimes I’m in a funny mood, and sometimes I’m in a serious mood. The current circle system is biased toward labelling people based on one specific item of content. If I post something really funny, I might be lumped in with your circle of comedians who post nothing but humor. Likewise, if I post something about my Mom’s cancer and you add me to your cancer-survivors circle, but I later post a joke about @Lance Armstrong, I can really look like a jerk when you are browsing your cancer survivors circle.

When I share something, I’d like to share it to people who have elected to receive content from me that is categorized by a unique tag. Maybe you want to read my funny stuff. Maybe you just want to read my Adobe stuff, or even more particular, maybe all you really care about is my InDesign or EPub stuff. I want to be able to share stuff to categories like that, not to specific people groups.

The current circles concept smells too much like a step toward some sort of half-baked DRM system when what I really want is something that will help me tune my content and make the Internet more useful for people. I think most social media users have similar issues, and advertisers want relevance as well. Focussing on relevance first, and letting privacy issues have second priority seems a smarter approach, in my opinion.

What do you think, do I have a point about circles or am I off on a tangent?

  • Well… you are pretty much at the point. When I joined G+ I was amazed by the usability of circles. So much that I even wrote a how to use Google+ circles

    But, while circles are still very useful and certainly a big step in social networking, they have their flaws. As you mentioned, one is privacy. They are not unbreakable and one should be cautious while sharing things around. 

    Their value comes with targeting, i.e. showing the right things to the right people. But then, it’s not the recipient that chooses what’s right. If I share bad jokes, you can’t opt-out from my “jokes” circle unless you send me a message to get you out of the circle I share my bad jokes with, if I even have one. And even then, it’s up to me if I’ll bother to do that. 

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