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Setting up theme circles to help direct content to only certain people? You might want to reconsider.

With all the recent complaints of noise and the seemingly elegant solution of circles, a lot of people have suggested setting up theme circles to direct content at only the people interested. For example, +Rob Grega and I both host a weekly cooking/dinner party Hangout, Table for Ten, so it would make sense to create a "Foodie" circle that includes people interested in cooking, food, nutrition, dining, or other related subjects. Whenever I wanted to make a food-related post, I would then select the "Foodies" circle so that people not interested in food don't have their streams cluttered with content they don't care about. Makes sense and it's good netiquette.

Why This is Bad for Big Ideas
Let's say +Rob Grega and I come up with an amazing, innovative idea for a restaurant. We want to get feedback, so we post on Google+ to share this concept and elicit input from the community. Being the considerate people we are, we restrict this post to our "Foodies" circle. Via Google+'s privacy structure, this post is now set to "limited."

Now let's pretend that +Natalie Villalobos is in my Foodies circle, and she sees my post. She thinks it's the cat's pajamas, and wants to spread the word to the ~50k people who have her circled, and anyone else who happens on her page. Rad. This is a powerful amplification opportunity for me and +Rob Grega, since ~50k is ~10x the number of people who have me circled. What a great chance for my and +Rob Grega's idea to spread and for us to get more, even better feedback!

So +Natalie Villalobos clicks the share button and starts to type "public" in the share field, but the word won't auto-populate. It seems she can't share it with the public. Why? Because the original post I made was shared only with my Foodie circle. Google's privacy features detect that the post was set to limited, and thus it restricts others from sharing it publicly.

Okay, so what?
Well, what if +Natalie Villalobos has been very selective in who she adds to her circles and she only has 100 people added? And let's say that those 100 people only have 100 people circled each? Best case scenario, +Natalie Villalobos shares it with her "Extended Circles", which means her post is now restricted to be viewed by only 100,000 people.

Compare this to if she had been able to post it publicly. Worst case scenario, the post is shared with 50,000 people, who- keeping with the aforementioned hypothetical circle-number- each have 100 people circled. This post is now viewable by 5 million people, with no caps for furture shares extending from there.

Let's Take it a Step Further

Okay, again, why does this matter in the tangible sense? Take a look at the diagram I drew. Now take a moment to wish enviously that you had the same mind-blowing artistic skills as me. Okay, now let's break this down:

Let's pretend that in +Natalie Villalobos's circles are +Tom Anderson and +Mike Elgan. +Tom Anderson thinks +Natalie Villalobos is the bees knees and he trusts her, so he has her in his circles. +Mike Elgan, on the other hand, is terrified of wolves, so he does not have her circled, for fear of seeing her last name everyday. Under the restrictions of the initially limited share, both these individuals have access to view the post.

Now let's also pretend that Anthony Bourdian circled +Natalie Villalobos a while back because he wants to stay hip on Google+. She, however- along with +Mike Elgan and +Tom Anderson- think Anthony is a total jerkface, so none of them circled Anthony. Under the restrictions of the initially limited share, Anthony will not have access to view the post. No one who +Natalie Villalobos shared the post with also has Anthony circled.

As it turns out, Anthony was looking to open a restaurant here in San Francisco. Had he seen our idea via +Natalie Villalobos's share, we would have contacted us, offered us a bajillion dollars for our idea, and promoted +Rob Grega to head chef. And they all lived happily ever after. (Except +Mike Elgan, because he was later kidnapped by wolves.)

Okay, so yes, this is all very hypothetical, but the point stands. When you limit your posts to a specific circle, you limit the potential for that post to be shared- for your ideas to spread and grow, your creations to be appreciated and exhibited. This system works well if you're making a very private post that, indeed, you don't want to be redistributed, but for those of us just trying to utilize the system in order to be considerate and reduce the amount of unwanted noise on Google+, there has to be a better solution.

Privacy Restrictions Should Be Distinct from Noise Filters
One idea is to have an extra option that allows you to post to a specific circle(s), while still allowing the post to be reshared publicly. A simple checkbox, if you will. An easy, "Post to limited, but allow public shares" selection. I realize that less options are better when it comes to a site's UI, but this seems like an area where an exception is warranted.

I'm sure, however, there are even more elegant solutions. What are they? What can we do to reduce noise, while still allowing a wide distribution of content?

Note: No cats, bees' knees, or wolves were harmed in the making of this post.

Original post URL:
Meirav M.'s profile photoCarolina Iopez Carrera's profile photoEmmett Lollis (ThePortalDoctor)'s profile photoJames Fierce's profile photo
Thanks for posting this! It's been on my mind for a while. I have some ideas..

Public Option Circle Sharing
There could be a check box when you post to a circle which allows public re-sharing. Pretty simple idea.

Topic Subscription List
You could have profiles setup to offer subscription to posts by topic.
For example I might have these as topics:
General Stuff

People could just subscribe to my posts that match their interest. This wouldn't be as easy as the first idea though since many people might not know about the feature and not see any of my posts at all, or they might miss out on discovering new things they didn't know the people they followed offered.

What do you think?
Part of the problem is that we are used to services like Facebook and Twitter that don't give readers the tools to filter out noise themselves other than to outright un-follow someone.

The "Mute this post" feature gives readers the ability to do their own noise filtering. When the API's are finally released I am sure there will be a plethora of tools that will allow filtering based on a whole range of things (key words, time of day, etc).

I have taken the approach of making everything public unless it is specifically aimed at a group of people (i.e. What time is the family dinner this week?).
+Alida Brandenburg makes sense... only thing people can do is post things public....but that takes away from the whole circles idea. google is going to have to find a way to implement this better. on another note i actually just made my own "food" circle yesterday. you should add me on that so i can see your food posts
Awesome post - but i'm confused, if you want stuff to go viral, why wouldn't you mark it 'public' to begin with? Or, can't you mark it public and then share it with only the circle you think will really want to see it? That gives them the opportunity to further spread it without it being directed at your 'friends' circle, 'android dev' circle etc? Just weighing in, but very awesome post. thanks +Alida Brandenburg !
A small tooltip with two check boxes; "Allow reshare to public?" [Yes] [No]. And have it be context sensitive:

if who_to_share != 'Public'
I think this is another way to say the same thing... I want to share something tech related with my tech circles but be considerate and not spam my photography circle. I have no problem with them seeing it if they look at my profile or if I post something that would show in a Google search, I'm happy if my friends find it and it's useful, and no I don't mind if anyone re-shares it. Also, I don't want to spam the half of my tech circle that aren't following me back to the point that they block me for spamming their incoming, and now I can't comment on anything they post. Actually Google fixed the last one with Ignore vs Block.
fuck tom anderson he is a stupid fuck. take that fucker off that graphic NAWWWW
^^ That wasn't really necessary, was it?
+Alida Brandenburg The main issue is that circles is not a replacement for groups. I think Google will give us groups soon and then we can stop trying to use circles for discussing interests. Groups should have administrators and a more controlled environment and hopefully you can say these are my groups and people can join them.
+Samuel Riksfjord: Again, out of consideration. Some people who have me circled did so because they wanted to hear about food. Others wanted to hear about Pandora, where I work. There are lots of different reasons why people circle me and they might not want to read every single post I make if I cover a lot of different subjects, which I do.
As always... a great post. 
+Alida Brandenburg I completely agree! I guess my question is that if you really want to give something the opportunity for virality (a new app you've built or something) it seems unthinkable to limit it - also, isn't there a tacit agreement made when someone who circles you to put up with your posting? Sure they might not want to see it all, but if it's content that you deem important enough to make 'public' isn't there more or less an understanding btwn you and your audience (a social contract if you will) that they will see it? I agree with +Alex Garcia regarding groups and also with you about consideration though I don't see a middle ground at the moment.
+Alida Brandenburg A circle around interest also has the problem that only works if the owner of the circle starts the post and everyone comments on it. Because if you have 100 friends in your food circle and I have 50 of them in mine, whenever I start the post only 50 of your friends see the comments. Again a circle of interest is not a group.
What happens when you use Extended Circles?
So we still need topics/categories/tags/whatever to classify posts to enable better filtering... Google's gotta be working on this. Symmetric groups would be nice too, but they address a different set of issues. Too bad Google doesn't have a list of "+ stuff we're actively working on" for people to follow :) That would definitely reduce the duplication of suggestions AND give people something to look forward to.
I think one of the things that Alida is pointing out with this post, is that (at least to my understanding) the idea of having unlimited types of "circles," which can named/built any way we want, was originally intended as a way of limiting sharing to those potentially interested in the subject of the post. When we all signed up for G+, we were all informed that we should set up circles based on the types of information that we want to share. (That was the impression I got). This way of sharing may be good for when we're trying to post inside jokes or stories to a specific group of friends, but it doesn't seem to be working as initially intended when sharing other types of information, and the reason it's not working is because of the inherent nature of how G+ forces "limited" posts to remain limited, indefinitely. The idea (correct me if I'm wrong, Alida) is that if limited shares had more options in terms of re-sharing, users could post to their limited circles (to spare potentially uninterested viewers from unwanted spam) while not limiting their post from being re-shared to further appropriate parties further down the line. I've been seeing a lot of people posting to limited circles. Occasionally I want to re-share something I happen across here, but because I generally re-share to my public stream, I'm unable to in those cases, and I have to track down the original link and share it as original. This is where the issue comes into play. Part of the idea here is to be able to re-share, and give credit to the original person who made the post. If many of us are sharing to the public, but some of us are sharing in a more limited manner, it makes everything a little more complicated and isn't really working as originally intended. Adding some options to limited sharing could potentially solve this problem... unless everyone stops sharing to limited circles. But then why have so many circles?
+Emmett Lollis nailed it, and it sounds like there's quite a consensus on this thread that noise filtering != privacy restrictions. It's all a question of how to do it cleanly and easily.

Personally, I think the option should be post specific as well as a circle-level setting. Obviously I wouldn't enable "Public Resharing" on my "Bitch about Work" Circle (if I had one, ha. ha.), but I certainly would on my "Terrible Puns" Circle.

There's also a general challenge b/c Circles have two functions (sharing your posts, filtering others posts) that seem to inherently be at odds with each other. Google has made some nice refinements but there's still some room for improvement.
Yeah, that's a good synergistic solution, +Emmett Lollis. I've been rallying for a subscription-type method for a couple months now.

And yeah, +Rob Grega summarized it well, especially this part, which I didn't really discuss much: "Occasionally I want to re-share something I happen across here, but because I generally re-share to my public stream, I'm unable to in those cases, and I have to track down the original link and share it as original. This is where the issue comes into play. Part of the idea here is to be able to re-share, and give credit to the original person who made the post. If many of us are sharing to the public, but some of us are sharing in a more limited manner, it makes everything a little more complicated and isn't really working as originally intended."
+Alex Garcia No, what I mean is, what happens in this scenario when you chose Extended Circles from the start instead of one circle. Can the next person also do Extended Circles?
We need the concept of Channels that we can publish and subscribe to. I might subscribe to Alida's Pandora channel. She can then use her Circles to limit who can see the content she publishes, but it is at least now grouped by topic. 
+Jim Gomes, doesn't that still result in the problem +Alida Brandenburg mentioned, which is that if she has a big idea on a "channel", it can't get out publicly?

FWIW I do like the idea of channels, though foresee organization/discovery issues if they're absolutely freeform, a la hashtags.
Thank you for a very good post!

I think the simple and elegant solution is to allow people to have multiple named public circles that other people can subscribe to.

I have thought about this in another context, namely the problem that some authors ask people to indicate in posts which of the author's circles they want to be added to ("please indicate if I should add you to my music cirle", or "please indicate whether you wan't to be added to my amateur/semi-pro/pro photographer cirle" ). This is quite cumbersome, and the public circle concept would solve this, as well as the problem related to re-sharing.

A person that posts interesting stuff about different categories such as politics, food, photography, etc., could create such (output) circles named "politics", "food", "photography" and mark them as public, so that they are viewable to people that visit that person's profile. Additional information could be provided with each public circle as to allow people to select whether the circle is relevant to be added to ("subscribe to").

It should then be possible for people to not only add an author to their circles (as done today) but also specify which public circle(s) they want the author to add them to (or maybe they should simply be auto-added to such public circles).

Of course the author should be still be free to add the subscriber to others of the author's private circles so that the author is still able to share other kinds of information with the subscriber more privately.

EDIT: I was writing this as the two above posted their comments, but I think we are talking about the same thing :)
+Mike Alwill, no, because the real problem that +Alida Brandenburg is trying to solve is avoiding spamming people with irrelevant information. By posting to the Pandora channel, but setting access to the Public circle, she achieves everything she wants. If she were posting something sensitive in nature, she would limit that post to just her Pandora co-workers circle. This gives the power to direct and control the spread of information. Of course, posting to multiple Channels should be as easy as posting to multiple Circles.

My biggest concern is that it would further confuse users, who are already confused by the Circles concept.
+Jim Gomes Is it safe to assume that these channels have public re-share on by default unless the owner specifically shares only to that channel? If so it sounds like a combination of the "able to reshare publicly option" combined with channels.

Def still a good idea though, even if it presents other challenges.
+Mike Alwill the permissions for reshare would stay as they are based on which Circle the post is shared with. The Channel concept is kind of like a permanent hashtag.
+Peter Voigt, I saw your edit, and yeah, I think we're thinking along the same lines. :)
+Jim Gomes In that case it still sounds like if +Alida Brandenburg shared something with her Pandora circle, there'd be no way for the idea to get re-shared and take off big in the public space. I know you mentioned that her main point was noise filtering, but she did seem to focus on big ideas an awful lot so I'm not sure I agree :)

P.S. Sorry thread watchers, +Jim Gomes and I can take it outside if we're annoying the bejesus out of you!
I think it would be a good feature to distinguish privacy from noise filtering. But for the most part, I wouldn't worry about it.

If it's something like this, just post it publicly. For example, I could use a themed circle for my band. Most of the updates I share about my band would go just to that circle. However, if it's bigger news, or an idea I want to engage the community with, I'd just post it publicly. I am still me, and the people who are interested in the topics I share about won't mind bigger news personal to me.

Google+ is currently individuals sharing with other individuals, not brands sharing with individuals. I think your concept is something to incorporate into brand pages or profiles when they come about, not something to worry about with personal profiles.
+Michael Cavano, good point about the brand pages. However, there are some users who aren't corporate entities, but are a sort of brand (e.g, +Alida Brandenburg's Table for Ten and Pandora interests). I think people have overloaded the usage of Circles: they want them to be both topics and access control. I'm suggesting that they be broken out in to two separate features. Circles for access control (i.e., who can see this), and Channels for topic control (i.e., who is interested in this).

+Mike Alwill, the re-shareability of a post is still governed by the Circles access permissions. If I were subscribed to the Pandora channel, and it was shared to the Public Circle, then I am free to re-share it with my own Circles and/or Channels.
+Jim Gomes - I had a similar thought when I first joined G+. I thought about Puff Daddy's (P. Diddy, Puffy... what's his name now?!?) twitter feed. He shares stuff about him as an artist, as well as him as a producer, and then also him as a business man, and finally him as a human being (you know, random waiting in line or what I had for lunch tweets). Maybe I'm interested in his business related posts, but I'm not necessarily interested in the others. He wears many "hats", and only some of them are of interest to me.

I think you're right that in cases like these, a brand profile wouldn't suffice. My solution to this was to give people an option when they circled someone to both add them to a circle, as well as subscribe to one or all of their "hats". Maybe "hats"could be organized like categories of public posts. That way, all "hats" posts would show up on your public profile, but only the "hat" a user is subscribed to would show up in their feed.
+Jim Gomes - Agreed! More user control, more focused sharing, and the "hats" idea has the potential for great graphics and meme action!
+Jim Gomes - I can just picture the video of Hitler getting pissed about people not following his Aryan race "hat". :-D
This is a problem I'm still struggling with. Because I don't wany my many posts to annoy or alienate folks, I'm posting some of my stuff to certain followers based of interest. But I'm also posting some things publicly, even though they probably are of interest to only a few, because I'm hoping to have them shared with a wider audience. It's a fine line to balance, and hopefully future updates to Google+ will help address this issue.
Absolutely +Mike Alwill, noise filtering != privacy restrictions

Indeed +Jeremy Yoder. I guess there are large strategic and business implications involved that prevent them from listing what they're working on. It would seem safe to assume Google is working on plenty of the urgent/obvious/important needs. But I grew tired of waiting for a solution for hashtags/plustags, so I reached out. From what I've seen so far, and the reactions I got, they're not as far yet as I would have expected. Now I have a discussion on the topic that I welcome you all to (granted, it's clearly not as well written as this post here though).

Simply waiting around for them to act is not enough. We need to build as a community together the best possible product, by getting involved. Posts like these from +Alida Brandenburg are important contributions.

I feel the tags must somehow be integrated to, well everything, but specifically to circles. And help in the filtering of both ends of the communication pipe like said by +Jim Gomes and +Michael Cavano.

(also the simple fact of tagging someone creates a potential endless stream of info overload to wade through. I cannot imagine how Natalie Villalobos can manage her notifications given it's so easy to tag her and send info her way.)
Yup, this is what I've been saying for a while now - the interest-based circles idea is not the way to go. The pressure to reduce noise means that people are posting as "limited" stuff that they are actually happy to share with the whole world, which seems very wasteful to me. And as you point out, this wastefulness continues in a kind of ripple effect, because others can't share these posts publicly either.

Ideally what we need are ways for the readers to filter content on their side - in the meantime, all we have is the option of Muting one post at a time.
I think a subscription circle system would work here, as well as add more blog-like functionality to G+. Everything you post to the circle is public, but only those who add themselves to it see it initially. 
There needs to be a groups-like function. Example: a close friend is on a sports team. She would like to make posts specifically to them that other friends would not care about or dont need to know. She creates a circle with all her teammates. She posts something to that circle. But now the question for her teammates is: is this a team post, private post, general post or what? They can look at who it is limited too, but that is not a certain way and not efficient. She can title the post with "For teammates", sure. But what if they want to see all such posts from all team members in one place? there needs to be groups functions, so they can post to a group of team mates privately, but perhaps also make some posts publicly, so that team fans can then "follow" the team group and share to that team group as well.
Good point +Alida Brandenburg . As a long time and active (before Google+ at least) twitter user I would say part of content curation is in viewing, not just sharing. I don't even try to read everything people in my circles write. Very few people can read all info in their feeds on whatever social media they use. I generally opt for making posts public unless the info is private, others can just choose to read the posts that interest them.
For all the people not fond of the grouping and differentiating between filtering and recepients - think language. While most of the time I do write in english, sometimes even writing in english about a german link does not make sense. At least theoretical I could I can post my german stuff to the german only group, but I have to make that limited because there is no other way - in opposite to you being able to say "i want to read finish and english content".

also I would love to share more - but i try to be more tech and ommit my love for quotes, for quirky gadgets, pictures I like, and much more: because the only way to manage that is to ask people "do you want to maybe read my quotes postings?"

I am taking quotes here as a specific example: There are people out there who are nuts about them and want to see them all the time. My tech readers?`In part. So I only have the choice to limit myself or loose my tech readers. As I like to say: This is 2011. We should not have to deal with it.

And thanks to Alida for writing it down so nicely.
Quick note: I received a bunch of messages from users requesting that I add them to my "Foodies" circle. Just to clarify, that was a hypothetical example. I don't actually have any theme-groups for the reasons mentioned in my post. ;)

Sorry for any confusion, noodles! If I did have such a circle, I would certainly add you all!

Also, +Mike Elgan was not, to my knowledge, kidnapped by wolves, and I cannot confirm for certain if +Tom Anderson thinks +Natalie Villalobos is the bees knees.

Please let me know if I can offer any further clarification. Thank you.
lol on the foodies - i think they rather want to be read by the famous chef. How about you make an extra posting "foodies post here" to let them add each other? ;)
Great post. Unfortunately, I've already set up my circles to direct content only to people who have indicated to me they are interested. I do have an 'Everything' circle for those who want everything, but it's still limited. I'm going to have to be more careful about the use of circles vs. the public, thanks for explaining it so clearly +Alida Brandenburg!
+Alida, i love the way you think! 
+Alida Brandenburg there is a pretty simple work around here. All you have to do is copy and paste the whole post and then re-post it
Also +Alida, please add me to your "kidnapped by wolves" circle. 
+James Fierce: True, but then you still don't have access to the original post's comments, which may be just as- if not more- valuable than the post itself.

Also, people might get confused about where the content originally came from (i.e. they may think that it came from the person who copy/pasted the post, not the person who originally created the post). I've seen people do that on reshares as it is, so you can imagine the original source is even more likely to be overlooked with your method.

I think there is a much more elegant, simple solution than the one you proposed, but that is certainly a possible work-around in the meantime.
+Alida Brandenburg if you gave credit to the original poster ppl could go back and find the original comments. It's certainly not pretty but could work until the Google Brainiacs put the true fix in.
+James Fierce That is what I try to do, although I find it rather ironic that Google Inc. doesn't have an easy way to search for a particular post in Google+.
+Ryan Schultz Search is hard. They should, but I understand why they don't. Set up a filter in gmail for your Google + posts so that they all have a G+ label. Search in Gmail is easier.
What G+ should offer, is an option how to handle re-posts/shares. By default, it could be like it is now: from limited to limited.. plus the options: no share at all, and freely share. The last option would be ideal for the above mentioned idea.
+James Fierce +Ryan Schultz +Tracy L. Crawford,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=8e0c53e5d571130d&biw=1920&bih=955

It's not really that hard to search Google+ at all. does the exact same thing, for anyone who needs a box to type into.

The gmail search is a pro-tip though. Also remember that if you don't want email notifications, you can set it to skip inbox for those emails so you won't be notified, but can still search that label later.
The real trick is figuring out how to initially share publicly while targeting a specific circle. I don't think we should mess with the limited re-share option - its there for a reason. The problem here lies in the boundry between send-filtering and receive-filtering that use the same circles interface for both. The true solution would be to differentiate those two very different purposes...

Have an inclusion-based system for targeting certain groups (we already have this by adding multiple circles to a post) but then also allow the recipients in those targeted circles to filter the post out of the public stream as well (the missing part here).

I expand on this idea here:
+Ben Lesh Well I just tried to do both a Public share at the same time as a share with two of my circles. The problem is, now I don't know whether or not my circles actually received this message, because the post only says "Public" (which makes sense, it is the broadest group after all).

UPDATE: Apparently it only goes to Public and it ignores the circles added to the to: box. Bummer.
gplussearch takes days to register. "Cooking circles" is an example. The last "post" that shows up is August 11.

For something like G+, days later is out of date. You really need to completely rethink search for something as dynamic and fast flowing as G+.
+Ryan Schultz That is exactly how it is designed to work right now unfortunately - sharing to Public currently overrides all other targeting mechanisms. What I'm proposing is for Google+ to add another stream to the list. A stream that contains ONLY posts that were targeted directly at you... by someone +including a circle of theirs to an otherwise public post. Here is how I've described it in my original post (

For example: when you want to post something to your Music Buddies circle about some cool new guitar technique you just found, but still think it would be fun for other people to know as well, you can share to both <Music Buddies> and <Public> circles. The post would show up in the All Circles: Public stream for everyone who had you circled via the <Public> share, and the All Circles: Private stream for just the people in your <Music Buddies> circle.

The concept here is to have a way to target certain interest groups while also allowing the whole thing to be public.
+Ryan Schultz When you add a circle, even if you are including public, hover OVER the circle addition and you get the option to send a notification to that circle and yet still post something publicly.
+Ben Lesh Yes, that is the sort of mechanism we need here - a way of making a post accessible to the public but not thrown into everyone's streams.
What can we do to reduce noise, while still allowing a wide distribution of content?

Think of "how" Google itself became popular. Deja Vu. There lies the clue :-)
My take on it is, post it publicly if it's nothing you wish to keep private. If you are only posting foodie stuff, those interested are going to circle you back, and most people don't just post specifically on one topic. There's usually a smattering of interests. Now some photog's do only post photos and that's fine. Leave it up to me to read my photography circle and not try to only send to those you think are interested in photography or food. We get to decide what we see and when. We can't decide who gets to see what and when from us because when we try to do that, we are only limiting ourselves. Circles are more for reading than writing unless it's a private "group" in a circle (for instance) like family.

Again, you can post publicly AND include a circle, hover the circle name and then you get the option to make sure their receive a notification if it's something you feel you need that circle to see (like an announcement for instance).
+Ben Lesh This is something that I would use sparingly and reservedly. In fact, I personally have never used it. But it's available for perhaps those smaller circles where people are cross circling each other.
+Ben Lesh yes, I'd say that "notify" thing should be used very very sparingly, otherwise it can get spammy.
Here's what I do. I create certain small circles where I will get permission from the members to occasionally notify them.

When I have something of interest for that circle I notify them and make the post public. Best of both worlds:) 
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