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.

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