Shared Circles: Think Twice Before Getting Involved

Google+ shared circles allow people to send copies of their circles to other users. Shared circles have their uses but, like anything else online, you need to be careful with them because adding random shared circles can seriously compromise your Google+ experience. 

What is a shared circle?
A shared circle is a post containing a list of the people in a circle owned by the author of the post. When you receive a shared circle post on the desktop (computer) interface, you can add some or all of the people in the shared circle to one of your circles with just a few clicks. The circles are not shared in the sense that changes anyone makes to their copy get reflected to everyone else. Shared circles are only a means for making and distributing a one-time copy of who is in the circle at the time it is shared. 

Shared circles are not as important today as they were in the early days of Google+ before communities existed. At that time, shared circles were really the only practical way of establishing the equivalent of a community of people who could all communicate with each other. Now it is easier for people to simply join communities than to have to constantly pass around updated shared circles so everyone has the current list.

The good side of shared circles
A quality shared circle provides you an easy way to establish contact with new and interesting people on Google+. With only a few clicks, you can add them to your circles and liven up your Home stream with interesting material from the new people. Similarly, you help others find interesting people quickly by sharing your circles with people having similar interests.

The dark side of shared circles
The content of both your Home stream and What's hot is heavily influenced by the people you have circled. Adding random shared circles can therefore turn both into pure junk streams. Most of the posts you see in your Home stream are from people you have circled. Additional posts are included which were +1ed by people in your circles and (depending on your settings) from What's Hot. Google has not shared the details of how the content of What's hot is customized for each person, however there is overwhelming evidence that one of the major factors is the people in your circles. People who manage their circles carefully report that their What's hot contains very meaningful and interesting posts whereas people who have added many random people -- or many random shared circles -- generally report the opposite. The most compelling evidence of a link between circles and What's hot, however, is that people who have cleaned up their circles report an immediate improvement in What's hot

Depending on your settings, adding random shared circles might also allow the circle members to create Google+ notifications for you or to start Hangouts with you. It might also give them access to personal information you intended to be shared with only a limited audience.

How to recognize good and bad shared circles
I recommend adding shared circles only if at least one of the following is true:
-- You already know the people in the circle and know you want to see their material in your Home stream.
-- You know who built the circle and how it was built. For example, circles shared by Google of people they have identified as Top Contributors, or circles created as a group project where people are nominated to be included for reasons which would make you want to see see their posts would fit this condition.

The surest sign that a shared circle is questionable is if it offers the option to be included in future generations of the circle if you add, +1, and comment on the current generation of the circle. That allows undesirable people to join very easily -- so those circles frequently include spammers and other people who you would not otherwise consider adding to your circles. On the other hand, people who are truly the top Google+ users in terms of providing high quality content virtually never join such circles (although they might be added by the creator of a shared circle to give the impression the circle was endorsed by those people). I strongly recommend not participating in any such shared circles. 

What to do when you receive a shared circle
Unless you trust a shared circle for one of the reasons given above, you should always treat a shared circle with suspicion. I personally never add shared circles that allow people to join in the manner described above. For other shared circles, I recommend checking the profiles of the people in the circles to see if they share the kinds of posts you want to see in your Home stream. In practice, this means I never add large shared circles because checking hundreds of profiles takes too much time. 

To check the membership of a shared circle, push the button to add the circle. Doing that displays the member list so you can make a good decision before the people are actually added. You can view the profiles of people in the shared circle and remove people you do want (by clicking the "X" that will appear in the upper right hand corner of their card when you move the cursor over the card). If you want to add the people, you can enter either the name of a new or existing circle in the field at the top. Then push the button to either create the circle or add the people to an existing circle.  (Note that using an existing circle adds the people to that circle. It does not replace your current circle.)

It is a good practice to add a shared circle as as a new circle initially because it gives you an easy way to reverse the the process. You can then simply delete the circle if you change your mind. If you added the people to existing circles, however, you would have to crawl through whichever circle you added the people to and remove them individually.

Google Policy Considerations
Both Google+ profiles and pages are limited to a total of 5000 people and pages in their circles. Adding large circles can obviously lead you to reach that limit very quickly and leave you with a major cleanup job before you can add people you really want in your circles.

Rule #7 of the Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy ( says "Do not aggressively add people to your circles." Adding large shared circles frequently can lead to your account being flagged for violating that rule. If that were to happen, the number of people you could add to your circles per day could be very seriously limited.
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