Friday, July 29, 2011

Going Around in Circles

I, like several million other people, have recently been trying out Google+. G+ has received plenty of press in the past few weeks and I don't want to add to the noise. But when I started I noticed two things that I didn't see mentioned until recently:
  • All my G+ friends are KM types, or otherwise involved professionally in communication and social interaction. Few if  any of my "normal" friends are using G+ (or see why they should).
  • I don't like making circles. They require too much thinking.
The first observation were confirmed this week when the unofficial Google Plus Directory ( posted demographic information on G+ users based on their ascribed professions. Most of the top twenty are technology or information-focused professions. And many of those that are not explicitly "in the business" are questionably tied to technology (such as writers and designers).

My second issue is around circles. I understand they sound like a good idea. My personal (and professional) relationships are more complex than Facebook's simplistic friends / non-friends model.So being able to define your relationships in more detail sounds like a positive step.

The problem is, it's far more difficult than it sounds. I have friend friends and I have professional friends. I have professional friends and professional acquaintances. Some work for my old employer; some used to; some never did. Some know I am interested in poetry and video games (among other things); some don't. A few have met my wife; some may not even know I am married.

When I start to break it down, it is not only not binary, it is more complex than even I can describe. Which is what makes Google+'s circles so frustrating. They require too much thinking. This is not a technical issue, per se, but a failure to be able to turn an implicit organic process into an explicit concrete categorization.

In other words, my friends are analog and circles are digital.

Andrew McAfee confirmed my suspicions in a blog post. He goes into far more depth and argues that it is an issue of a priori vs. a posteriori decisions.I am sure he is right from a process perspective, but I am not even sure deciding after I find an item to share is going to help that much.

Part of the joy of Twitter is that there is no decision. You post or you don't. You open yourself to anyone who chooses to listen (essentially). Oh, it has its limitations as well (starting with the length of the messages). But the freedom from thinking about who a message is intended for can be quite liberating.

However, that freedom doesn't have much to do with friends; it has more to do with publishing (or proclaiming). But it can be a useful and easier process in the digital world than trying to sort out your friends.

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