Google+Tips: Simplifying Circles -- Start with Two
Circles are one of Google+'s most distinctive features. We create circles for one of two reasons, sharing and subscribing:
1. We want to limit something we share only to the people in that circle.
2. We want to read posts by the people in that circle at the same time.
So when you first start using Google+, you need only two circles, Read and Write. All that other stuff about Friends, Family, Coworkers. Forget it. Don't waste your time coming up with complicated sorting schemes. Your circles will evolve with use.
Public-Only Sharers Don't Need Circles for Sharing
How It Begins. If you share all your posts publicly (to anyone on the Internet), you don't need circles for sharing. Indiscriminate sharers edit themselves by choosing what to share or choosing who their friends are.
At this time, Google+ doesn't let you hide public posts from selected circles. So if you share boob pics publicly with you frat buddies, you can't hide them from your mom, your girlfriend, your minister, or your boss. To steal a phrase, "There's a circle for that."
How It Evolves. Gauging the effect of certain topics (humor, politics, religion) on a roomful of strangers can be tricky. Google+ is a reputation management system and you don't want to blow your credibility by looking like an ass in front of a potential business associate, customer, or the head of your kid's PTA.
One of the first circles I created was Humor. No one was in it. I created it to bookmark stuff that I thought was funny -- a way to save it for myself. As I saved certain things to it, I'd get an impulse to share it with someone I knew would appreciate it. Sometimes, I'd add them to the share by name. If I did that often enough, I'd add them to the circle.
Lesson Learned. Start with the topic and add the people.
Mainstream Readers Don't Need Circles for Reading
How It Begins. Currently Google+ shows you posts from all your circles at the same time in the Home Stream. Although you can (and should) read by circle, Google+ does not let you set a default of just one or more circles when you go your main page. You have to take that extra step and click on a circle to read the posts in it. If this is too much of an effort, do not trouble yourself to set up "reading" circles.
Although topic-based circles are excellent for sharing posts, they are useless for reading posts. That's because people post on a wide variety of topics and you will get all the content they post publicly plus anything they share with you specifically.
How It Evolves. So what good are reading circles? Frequency. I have two reading circles: Important and Daily Reads. I check Important several times a day and Daily Reads with my morning coffee.
Lesson Learned. Set up you reading circles by how often you want to check in on someone.
Lesson Learned (update). Don't mix noisy people and quiet people in the same circle. If the noisy people post several times a day and have active comment threads, their posts will alway bubble to the top of the stream (this keeps active conversations going). You'll read down until you see one you've already seen. Meanwhile a whole bunch of posts who haven't seen by people who post less often are below that.
The "As Needed" Approach
Over time, you will discover other ways of organizing the flow of information in Google+ based on what you like to read and share. I have a circle for Tech Journos because they tend to focus their posts on tech and they write a lot. I like to read them all at the same time.
What you don't need to do when you start on Google+ is waste a lot of time sorting contacts from your Gmail account (who probably aren't even using Google+) into circles. You don't need to set up elaborate hierarchies of circles.
Just start with two: Read and Write. The rest will evolve naturally.