Last week, Tim Owens from the University of Mary Washington created an adhoc Google+ Hangout (which was archived for posterity). Of course, discussion turned to Google+, which is at the moment the most meta social network in the world. As the discussion turned to circles, it occurred to me that , if you direct your postings carefully to a specific audience, you may miss some synergies.
This isn’t to say that there’s no need for something like circles. I can think of at least a couple of valid use cases for them. I put very little about my children onto social networks. When they’re older, they should decide how public they want their online lives to be, and I don’t want to burden them with a massive online footprint of childhood photos. Circles let me share this selectively with relatives and other people who actually know my children.
Another sensible use for circles is managing languages. I speak/write several languages with varying degrees of competence and fluency. By segregating speakers of different languages into circles, things are seen only by people who are likely to be able to read them.
However, with these couple of exceptions, I think Google is missing the boat with outbound filtering. I may not know that someone in my Educational Technology circle is also interested in Medieval and Renaissance music, and thanks to the circle model, never the twain shall meet. The crux of it is that people should decide for themselves what’s interesting rather than trying to predict the audience for a specific artifact. Rather than wonder if I’m in Jon Becker’s Dead Cat circle, I should filter Jon’s streams that I follow to exclude (sorry, Jon) dead animal references using hashtags, keywords, etc. TweetDeck has a decent global filter, but why not something more granular, so I can avoid Jon’s dead cats while still seeing posts from the horse stable where my kids will attend camp this summer? Better filtering also can help address social platform overload. As soon as Google+ launched, the technopundits began to ponder which platforms (facebook, Twitter,etc.) would lose the attention that Google+ gained. If you can filter your streams so as to raise the signal to noise ratio in each channel, this becomes less of an issue.