The concept of Google+ Circles is not a revolutionary one.
Many of us already use digital tools to segment our contacts and the information we share with them, including multiple email addresses, Twitter accounts, and Web sites.
Google+ makes segmentation easier, but do we need it?
To examine this question, I went back to three books that discuss organization, communication and the effects of digital technology on the finding and sharing of content. Technology is making it possible – and in many cases, necessary – to segment our activities into niches.
The Long Tail, Niche Interests, and Circles
“Mass culture may fade, but common culture will not. We will still share our culture with others, but not with everyone.” – Chris Anderson, The Long Tail
One of Chris Anderson’s main points in “The Long Tail” is that digital tools make it easier to find, create, and share content. Everything from obscure music to old TV shows and books can now be found with relative ease, creating new markets for our niche interests.
By definition, our niche interests aren’t shared by most of our friends, family, and co-workers. So how can we share all of this content with the people who are interested in it?
The key is to find a way to easily separate our contacts into different groups. Google+ seems to be a great tool for this.
Starfish and Circles
“Circles are important to every decentralized organization we’ve explored.” – Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom The Starfish and the Spider
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom focus on the advantages of decentralized organizations in “The Starfish and the Spider.” The authors refer to circles as, “…the first of five important foundations of a decentralized organization.”
Our contacts are our own decentralized organizations – everyday, we recognize the value of pieces of content and then determine who might be interested in them. Whether we realize it or not, we are actually creating groups of contacts and distributing information to the correct groups, without much thought given to the benefits of a digital tool to structure these groups.
Google+ is a digital tool that allows you to organize around this concept, making it easier to share the right content with the right people.
Making Ideas Happen with Circles
“Circles like this play a critical role in making ideas happen across creative industries.” – Scott Belsky “Making Ideas Happen”
“Making Ideas Happen” is a must-read for anyone looking to jump start their productive output. Belsky recommends using circles to communicate with different groups of people across organizations.
Belsky warns that circles should be limited to roughly 15 people – groups much larger may experience a breakdown in communication and organization. This seems to suggest that a Google+ Circle should be broken into smaller sub-groups of 15 members – for instance, a Circle for “Family” could be divided into circles for immediate family, nieces/nephews, distant cousins, etc.
It should be noted that Belsky seems to be unimpressed with the early version of Google+. In a recent Tweet, he said, “I find it’s just a stream of a few vocal folks. Not engaging nor balanced.” I suspect this issue will sort itself out when more people begin actively using G+ and/or when Belsky breaks his Circles into smaller Circles.
Circles: A New Twist On An Old Concept
Of course, you can easily segment your contacts on Facebook and Twitter using lists, but lists are almost an afterthought for these networks. In fact, I’ve found it’s actually easier to create a separate Twitter account for each project or group of contacts, than it is to maintain and check on my lists.
In contrast, segmentation is built into the DNA of Google+. To get the most value out of Google+, it is helpful to understand the concept behind chopping up your contact list into smaller segments, or circles.
Circles aren’t a feature as much as they are the building block of the network itself. Have you determined your segmentation yet? How are you creating your circles?
John Fitzgerald is a documentary filmmaker. He produced The Emerald Diamond (2006) and Playing for Peanuts (2009). He currently serves as a social media consultant to several pro baseball teams and non-profits.