18 July 2011
Circles are Google's answer to Facebook's friends, but they can do more. (The choice of word has also given rise to an endless debate: what is the verb form equivalent to "to friend"? To circle? To encircle? To circumscribe? (We won't go into the question of whether or not one should "befriend" people on Facebook instead of friending them…)) In their simplest form, circles serve two purposes: access control (who can see your posts?) and following à la Twitter: whose posts do you see by default? This is the first danger: the concept is overloaded. Just because I want to hear what someone else says doesn't mean that I want them to hear what I say. The problem can be avoided by proper assignment of people to different circles, but I'm very skeptical that people will get that right; they don't on Facebook.
The problem is worse, though: circles can be used for many more things. There are already lists of creative ways to use them, but such circles are also both access control and following lists. Google+ is still a very geeky place, and was geekier still early on, but I saw a lot of confusion from people I know to be ubergeeks. Once you get used to circles, they're great, but of course the current population is asking for more power still, such as Venn diagram operations on circles. Wonderful — until you get something wrong.
There are many good things here. I especially like that you're asked, explicitly, with whom any new post should be shared. On the other hand, you get no such choice if you post a comments to someone else's thread; indeed, you can't even tell with whom the original poster decided that it should be shared. But I fear that the overloading will lead to very big trouble.