Circles help me to subscribe to people but how do I subscribe to topics?

(warning: long post)

My current feeling is Google+ is that still incomplete if you want to use the system to discuss topics with a degree of depth. Currently I think Google+ is better suited to general discussions on a mixture of topics.

That means that the other shoe has yet to drop. G+ will have to add topic specific tags (like +Chris Messina's twitter hash tag's) and also saved searches. That way you can still post on a number of topics and people will be able to filter for the posts that you make on specific topics.

If you thought that this is what circles were supposed to do and already can do then you are wrong. There can't be topic-specific circles, there can only people-specific circles. A circle cannot be about single topic unless its members post only on a single topic.

Here is my thinking:

If people want to be multi-topic then they usually post publicly because they don't know who will be interested. But for topic specific circles to work at all, they would have to stop posting publicly and start posting only to their topic specific circles.

Currently you can't share the memberships of circles easily so each person must build their own version of this topic-specific circle and ask to be included in the circles of each of its members.

First question: how do people discover other people's interests if their posts are not public? Let's assume we can solve that problem with public invitations to chat about a topic.

If person A wants to read the posts about topic X posts from person B, they need to ask person B to add them to their topic X circle. Person B then needs to be disciplined enough to either only post publicly on topic X or only post on topic X to their topic X circle

If person B wants to post on something else (say topic Z) then they shouldn't post publicly because their topic X circle will also get this topic Z post. This dilutes the value of the topic X circle if its members often publicly post off-topic.

So just that awkwardness alone make me think that the whole idea of topic-specific circles is unworkable. Circles are for people not topics of interest. Google+ currently is not really able to handle topics because it lacks the ability to add topic specific tags to posts and has no way to search and retrieve posts containing these tags.

I know that +Robert Scoble talked about interest graphs a few weeks ago. He's right that Google+ doesn't have those facilities yet. At the very least we need a search engine (and preferably one with the ability to bookmark searches). Then we can search our public stream on topic X and better yet restrict our searches to return posts only from our hand-picked circles of people.

This may have been obvious to everyone but it's taken me this long to even start to understand this aspect of circles.

Peter da Silva's profile photoJoshua Taranowski's profile photoVladimir Kelman's profile photoJohn Hardy not a Turnbull fan's profile photo
topics is sparks, almost useless, but give it time
I think topics is what sparks are for. At least that's how I set mine up.
I sure hope you read the whole post ;-) Sparks searches the news base but it doesn't search people's post.
topics is sparks and will be highlighted by the new realtime search.

meanwhile, we wait
No topics is not about sparks. I don't want to discuss what's in the newspapers. Can we stop talking about sparks now?
+John Hardy hashtags are due to be implemented next week as I recall from some post that has been reshared about a zillion times so far.
I don't think there was any such confirmation of what is being implemented over the next week. There was a bunch of speculation, and that's about it.
John, I think the point is that Sparks is only what's in newspapers now but the feature is most likely to evolve over time to cover what you're talking about.

Obviously an integrated search is a key feature missing here as well, for content in the stream. I think we're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, as you alluded to.
Shareable circles is what we all want, and I hope that the G+ team are coding them as we speak, as they are vital.
I really miss the tags features that I use on Dreamwidth when I'm here in G+... I'm hooked on the functionality as described at, for both individual journals/blogs and communities.

I have high hopes for Sparks, and for better Search and topic following in G+... and... well, if any company can get Search right for something as multifaceted as G+ and its integration with all the other Google Apps will eventually be... it'd be... a search company. Right?
Blargh. Good write-up, bad topic. I don't want to label people. At least not in that sense. I don't expect Joe to be Tech and Sarah to be Baking. I want them to be a smörgåsbord, as they are in real-life. That's why I've always loathed Twitter lists. Once somebody labels you "Tech" you feel like you have to post Tech.

I want my circles to remain natural, fluid, and free of public labels. That's the biggest benefit to private circles but everybody is screaming about sharing circles so loudly I think we're going to blow the opportunity to use them as they should be used.

Fwiw, I would welcome a post-tagging system of some kind.
+Eric Souza yes search is the obvious missing ingredient and we can only hope that sparks will grow in a general saveable search.

The only thing I've read about hashtags was that they were being considered according to +Joseph Smarr
A savable search of the public stream seems a logical extension for sparks .. combined with tags would be pretty similar to what Twitter does
+trench coat I agree circles should be based on grouping people you respect from different walks of life. That's why I think topic circles are conceptually wrong even though I have operated until the assumption that circles would be the answer until now.
My implementation of Shared Circles would be: that each circle would represent a group interest, within which all members of the group can then post within the group.
Trying to group people in circles by interest means that you are always going to miss the long tail... the really interesting post made from left field
Mike that article implies next week but I think it is safe to assume that they are in the pipeline, possibly real soon. I do expect them now.
Yes I agree, Peter.

Colin, if you read my post down at the bottom I try to illustrate a scenario where topic specific circles cannot work in a practical manner because people will dilute their usefulness when they post publicly on general topics. circles cannot control that.
FWIW, I really hope hashtags are not implemented in G+. They are hideously ugly, and Google is good enough to work out a topic from a post so as not to need them. In fact, I would suggest that Google's algorithms would possibly be better than people in most cases at working out topics without people littering them with #'s.
I'm with Joe L, please no hashtags.
Agreed tags wont tag the form of hashtags like in Twitter, that was mandated by the 140 char text box. I'm envisaging a system more like tags in Delicious or labels in GMail, GDocs etc.
A sudden thought/question: how many of you put people in at least 2 circles or more..?

I mean, me personally I think I've put everyone that I've "really" circled into at least 2 circles or more. And the people I'm following more closely, I tend to put them in at least 4 circles or more... My very closest friends from real life that I've known from kindergarten etc., I think I put some of them in 9 circles or more...

On the flip side there are people whom Google+ have "indicated" to me [via the 'Evil Red Box'] have Circled me over and over again, yet I visit their Profile Page and see nothing in their Posts tab...

Am I playing too much "guess your interests" with my Circles? I don't know, but I certainly am still trying to learn, and I'm definitely open to suggestions...
I've been thinking about an orthogonal solution to hashtags and shared circles.

Hashtags are probably the best solution for the "topics of the moment" (i.e #mumbai), and I would reserve them for that single purpose.

Shared circles have the problem that I'm forced to follow ALL its members at once. I see several problems with this. A circle could grow too large. It could split in two because of internal flames and holy wars. And would shared circles be access-controlled or free to anyone? who would own them, if access-controlled?

I think that it would be very interesting if we could attach "facets" to our profile, to declare the arguments we feel like we will talk about. I would publish that I like to talk "Android", "Social media", "Funny (silly?) things", for example.

When I post something, I could tag my post with one of my facets.

And when someone adds me in a circle, he/she could add not the whole of me, but just one of my facet. So, John could add "Andrea - Android" in his Android circle, and be saved by my funny posts :-)

Since facets would be optional both in posting and in adding someone to a circle, one would be free to use them when and with whom he/she likes.

As hashtags, facets require a mature public, who knows how to self -classify (factes) or classify what is posted (tags). Also, I wonder if they should be curated (but my first answer is: NO). I think they would allow for a lot of interesting possibilities in circle-making.
+Ferdinand Zebua It depends, circles need to work for you and not the other way round ;-)

I think circles are useful for getting away from the main stream (maybe I follow too many? yes I do)

I have a circle of about 20 I check first so its good to use it for short listing and prioritises your input.

Circles are also good if you have something really private going on. Family or a bunch of friends sharing something private.

Circles may be good fro organising people by profession and this may get you closer to topics of interest BUT I think that ultimately circles are no good for fields of interest. Grouping together programmers may get you more tech articles but they are just as likely to post pictures of their cats ;-)
So +Andrea Riva with your system you are basically advertising a bunch of feeds which people can indicate an interest in subscribing to. I suppose I could imagine saying I talk about HTML5, Javascript and kitty pictures. Tick the boxes.
+John Hardy yes, not only tick the boxes, but add each of them to the circle i choose. Honestly, I think it would be awesome... yet granting a lot of freedom to both publishers and subscribers
One of the things I like about tags though is that you dont need to decide them ahead of time, they may be short lived like "mumbai" or they might be longer like "HTML5", "movie", "politics" etc. I've been using a lot of Delicious bookmarks lately as you can probably tell but I find that a useful way to organise topics. Combining the search of HTML5 posts with my "people who can code" circle is likely to give me even better results.
A Discrete tagging system is fine, just not the inline hashtagging method that Twitter popularized.
I know, but familiarity breeds complacency and I just see too many asking for hashtags (not just in this topic)...makes me nervous.
+John Hardy you are assuming that all your "people who can code" will use #HTML5 to tag their posts. On the other hand, I am assuming that I'll mark my relevant posts with the #HTML5 facet. So, we are both relying on some assumption on the poster's diligence, and his/her compliance to "standards".

I +1 the fact the tags are better because they don't need to be declared ahead of time, but I like facets because they could give an operating description of one's interests, based on broader and more generic topics, but more "circle-friendly".
Agreed that tagging is required, soon. If implemented as Shared Circles, would replicate some of the ideas of concentric grouping that we were exploring in Wave.
+Andrea Riva the more I think about your scheme the more I like it.

At one level they are interchangeable concepts: long lived tags and facets but facets are structural and can be dropped into circles.

This allows a person to be a single topic poster to that circle (I discuss this requirement in my post to make topic specific circles workable) while remaining multi-faceted to everyone else.

If I dropped your android facet into my tech circle, then even if you talked about your cat in the public stream I would still only see your android posts unless I signed up for your whole multi-faceted personality ;-)

I can see how this could work quite well and address my concerns about the topic-specific circles being impractical in their current form. I wonder if the brains at Google have considered a scheme such as this.
+John Hardy - please look at a recent post by where he described his vision of Facets with a functionality very similar to what you described above as topic-specific circles. Also, there was some criticism by +Greg Madhere . (Typing it on my phone; I cannot use my computer right now, it's trying to revive itself under Firefox and Chrome with tens of g+ tabs. I'll fix links in a minute; mobile g+ app doesn't correctly pick @-references.)
like a blog having several categories

a person has several facets

so you're like subscribing to a facet feed
+John Hardy I told you it would be awesome :-)

But, seriously, I'm thinking that BOTH are needed, after all. Facets for a grand-view and "segmentation" of a person, tags for specific topics within a facet. (my facet is #Programming, and then this post is related to #HTML5).
+Theofrenz Cayambas yes this idea means you can "subscribe" to one of more facets, i.e. topic feeds from a person.

for example: I might advertise HTML5, Javascript, Java. You might choose to drop the first two into a "web dev" circle and ignore the third one or put it into another circle.
+Andrea Riva I can see how they might coexist though whatever scheme comes up its going to need to be simple. Circles for example are still befuddling to me even after thinking about them.
+Vladimir Kelman can't wait that you fix your PC so that you can link us to the post you've been mentioning
+John Hardy at the current time, circles are just visibility scopes for what you publish and what you browse. even using them as distribution lists is questionable. I prefer to refer to individuals (as in a multi-recipient mail message), when I post a limited post to 5-10 people. and I'm not going to define tens of circles with all the permutations of people I could write to in the future... I just don't have enough brain to deal with complexity ;-) so I'm defining a circle (as a distribution list) only if I can guess that I'll use it many times in the future.
and then the same facet from different profiles could be bundled into a diamond that Sparks , err, sparkles
I think that it's interesting that +Peter Arrenbrecht and +Sophie Wrobel are close to your idea. I think you're idea of dropping facets into circles clarifies something that they were discussing. Facets are not in conflict with circles because they are orthogonal:

circles are about people while facets are about topics
Yeh, they totally need to rip off #hashtags.
+Andrea Riva I like the concept of facets. You can recommend/ignore/invite people on base of their facets.

I think circles are way overestimated address books, nothing more, nothing less.

Hashtags: out!
+John Hardy thanks for the link! +Peter Arrenbrecht has perfectly described facets as I have thought about them during these days. We will have to litigate over who had the idea first :-)

Seriously. For those interested, is a startup who is going to launch a social network based on facets. IF they are going to launch it. With G+ alive and kicking, they are now too late...

Seriously II: facets are interesting, but as Peter writes in his post they put some burden on the (average) poster, whereas things have to be kept simple. It would be great if G+ implemented them, but during this launch phase I doubt it. It could take a long while... ATM, I think the mission is reaching 100.000.000 people in G+, and facets could scare people away, because they mean self-describing in public (which means to... ops... think!) :-)
Quora does a nice job of this actually: you can follow both topics and/or specific users. It does require, tho, that users pick topics for each question/post there. It is an issue here, I agree, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't go away pretty quickly. Seems very likely to me that we'll see both search and some kind of tagging mechanism soon. Even shareable, public circles-- especially if collaboratively constructed--could go a long way toward addressing this problem.
Thanks for the link +Vladimir Kelman, Peter's idea is certainly what we have been talking about.

Good points +Chuck Falzone. Obviously Twitter has been inspirational Google's thinking but so must Quora which has been a very influential topic based system.

My prediction though is that Google will start simple with search and probably some equivalent of "hashtags" i.e. tags because they have been extremely successful and widely adopted by Twitter's user base.

Saved searches already exist as a part of Sparks so you'd think that it wouldn't be much of a stretch to point Sparks at the posts themselves.
Facets or Sparks may have an effect on search keyword ranking, so I think that's what they are double checking before release
+John Hardy - Facets (or topic-specific circles which is the same) hopefully would allow to post more publicly, not less. Currently, a majority of my circle posts are private not because I want to hide something offensive, but because I don't want to bother my followers by wrong topics (my wife doesn't need to wade through my technical posts.) However, I would really like those posts to be public, available to anybody with a link, searchable by Google.
In my opinion the most powerful feature of Facets might be that they would allow to post publicly to a Facet. Anybody would be allowed to see such posts, but they would only be pushed to streams of those followers, who subscribed on that Facet.
Shared Circles (groups) would help as well, because posts to them also could be available to anybody with links (have publicly accessible URLs), but wouldn't pollute unrelated streams.
Andrea Riva, I think your description of Facets is near to perfect.
John Hardy, I see your point that tags don't need to be predefined, unlike Facets. But we probably need both.

Facets would allow to advertise my feeds, as you and Andrea said, and allow people to subscribe to Facets (associate them with their circles or overall stream, so that I could put your JavaScript Facet in one Circle and your g+ Facet to another.)

Tags would be usable in a short term (like #mumbai tag) and would affect how forthcoming more powerful Sparks find posts.
Because facets are structural, there will also need to be a way of defining more of them over time and also removing them. If a person suddenly takes up a new hobby, they can create a new facet.

I would think that people who are already following another facet of that person should be notified that this person also has this new facet that they may be interested in. If a person decides they no longer want to be associated with a certain facet then their followers would need to be notified in that case as well.
Some great points made here. +John Hardy about how circles can function more selectively by topics. Already this topic is one I would like to follow. Commenting on particular string seems to be the only way to follow developments and get notifications. A search by topic would be awesome.
Guys, let me apologize for my over-delayed posts. That's only now when I finally throughly read over the whole discussion. It seems that we are in a full agreement about long time Facets and short time tags.

I suppose, one of us with a better than my English should write a proposal and then we should try to submit it to Google.
By the way, Peter Arrenbrecht said he will start to work for Google later this year.
Thanks Alicia. You're right currently the closest thing we have to a topic circle or a facet is an individual discussion thread like this one.

All participants are subscribed to all updates to this thread and it does everything we need but gradually it will get too long and unwieldy. (limit 500 comments)

Eventually we need to spawn another one but maybe individual discussion threads are the closest thing we have at the moment to topic-specific circles.
+John Hardy just a note: in a post, comments are not notified to all partecipants. Only those actively appearing in the post (through a comment or +mention) receive notifications from the moment they first appear in the post.

It would be useful, in this respect, some "keep me updated on this post" toggle, without the need of explicitly commenting to trigger on notifications. (sending this a suggestion right now...)

This is just to say that a post tricks into thinking that it is an ongoing discussion between all partecipants, but those actively following it are actually unknown.
+Andrea Riva --Yes, would function like a, "follow this post" command.
if you share a post to yourself or to an empty circle of yours, it does that, ie, keep you updated on the post
+Theofrenz Cayambas but... if I reshare a post to myself, I'm receiving updates on the reshared post, not on the original one... Or is the resharing action turning on notifications for BOTH posts?
+Theofrenz Cayambas--Saving a post in an empty circle to yourself does not alert you with a notification. As of now you still have to comment to follow the thread.
double checked. you are right, it doesn't work.

although i did that before and instead of sharing the post, i got a notice that said "you will be updated about this post"

i'm sure i didn't dream it
If Google paid me 1$ for every "Send feedback", I would be on my way for my first hundred bucks :-)...
Please read my post here-
I have some features of subscribsble circles and requirements defined including some I do not see here around privacy, as well as a corporate angle. Privacy is important. I may for example only want my very close friends to know I have a subscribe-able circle about a specific touchy topic, and only close family about a very personal one. I think it builds on everything you have here. Please read and reshare. Thanks!
+Joshua Taranowski definitely a great post, thanks for linking it! I really like the privacy-related features.

The biggest difference I see with facets is that:

-with facets, you (optionally) mark a post with one or more facets, and then if you like you can post it publicly
-with public circles, you don't need to mark a post in any way, you just post to that circle

so the results are a bit different.

TBH, I'm at work and I couldn't think too much about the differences :-/ Really nice idea, my +1 is there :-)
+Andrea Riva - that "keep me updated on this post" toggle was working in Buzz, isn't it?

Going to read a post by Joshua Taranovski now....
Actually that's what I was thinking about to,I said before that there needs to be some sort of Wikipedia integration or something else that allows you to either instantly look for info on a certain topic or to sub to a certain topic and follow its developments....And to me sparks is totally useless but I'm sure it'll improve over time.
I talk about in my post on "Managing Your Social Graph Using Google+" there is a collision between supporting individual social networking needs (aka ego-centric networks), group needs (aka socio-centric networks), and information sharing (aka info-centric networks). Given that +Chris Messina I'm surprised the Google+ equivalent of #hashtags isn't already available, but I suspect it will be soon and will be let you do something that Twitter surprisingly never has let me do — see what only who I follow, or a single list, thinks about a #hashtag. That will address 90% of my info-centric needs and a number of my Circles will go away.
This idea "contrained circles", or what others have called "shared circles", "channels", "facets" etc comes up again and again but unfortunately Google has not any interest in topic based discussions.
We do have hashtags now, which are in the neighborhood of what yr talking about.
true but i dont think many people use them in a consistent manner. they improve the chances of a post coming up in a keyword search but they aren't treated specially by the search engine.

I don't think many people have successful built topic based groups by using them
They need to make # special in search, and let you include saved searches in your stream.
hashtags imply "active searching" while circles "push" posts to you... so it would be nice to have some effective "filtering" options both in sending and receiving... some kind of "intersection" instead of "addition" between circles too (using "music friends" + "english speaking" for instance)
For that, they should look at the iTunes smart playlist interface.
But just about any music player's "playlist" interface would be orders of magnitude better than the cutesy annoying "circles" page.
Funny. This popped up and notified my on this 6+ month old post when someone new commented. I have to say the battle is over here. I wish G+ had created shared circles, facets, intersections or ... even just called them private groups; but they didn't. It might have helped adoption. Facebook now has an intuitive 'private group' feature that lets you add a subset of your friends into a group and post on topic related posts. Your friends can opt out. You still can't do that here. The friends I brought over when those coveted and slow to come invites became available have already reverted back to Facebookland. Sorry gang...
Hashtags, invented by +Chris Messina for Twitter, were brought to G+ instead of real improvements of Content Channels and Private Groups.
I don't want to agree with you, Joshua, but I'm forced to do so. I'm afraid Google employees won't get those bonuses Larry promised them for developing a successful and "better" social network.
Add a comment...