Dear world: Google+'s Circles are not mandatory
I've been fascinated by the responses to G+ so far, and in particular to the Circles concept. It's a seemingly simple idea that becomes more and more complicated the more you think about it.* But what stands out in the collective response is the number of people who seem to almost resent what they feel is a requirement to sort their contacts into groups and then share things accordingly. Circles is the most distinctive aspect of the service so far, conceptually and visually, so it's natural that it's gotten a ton of attention. But it's surprising how many people who've taken the time to write about it have totally missed these compelling fundamentals:
A) You can put people in Circles who aren't even on Google+.
B) You can share with people selectively without using Circles to do it.
For the past several years, I've been staunchly Team Twitter. On Twitter, what I post is public. Look at what I post if you like; I'll look at what you post if I like. Facebook, on the other hand, is a walled garden -- one where everyone must mutually agree that they are "friends," and then have access to each other accordingly. That was the original deal-breaker for me. (There've been countless others in the meantime.) What G+ has done in this regard is pretty genius. First off, Public is an option for any post you make. Don't care who sees what you're sharing? Great! Make every post public. It's like Twitter with inline images and no character cap.
But the beauty of Circles -- flawed though it may currently be -- is that it's infinitely flexible. G+ is the first service (that I know of) where I can post something and share it with the public and/or the people I'm following and/or people who aren't even here -- it's up to me, on a post-by-post basis. Few of my closest friends are here yet, for example, but I can still put them in my Friends circle as email addresses. If I post a photo and share it to my Friends circle, those people simply get it in their email. I only need to perform one act for everyone to receive it. (And maybe those G+-branded emails will result in their eventually joining.)
Likewise, Circles aren't the only option when setting sharing on a post. Maybe you're a person who mostly posts publicly but also has a Family circle for personal stuff. Then along comes something you specifically want to share with just a handful of contacts. You don't need to create another Circle for them, as some have suggested. You can enter a list of individuals in the share field and that's who'll see that post. I've found myself re-sharing many G+ posts to just one or two people I knew would be interested.
So here are some ideas for using Circles:
1) We'll call this the Twitter technique: Put anyone you want to follow in the Following circle, then make all of your own posts public. Done.
2) The Facebook technique: Put everyone in your Friends circle and share everything with them; no public posts or Circle management necessary.
3) Do either of the above, but keep an additional Circle or two -- maybe an "Inner Circle" for private family/friends stuff and a "Coworkers I Like" for office gossip -- for those rarer times when you do want to limit access to a recurring subset of people.
4) Be as OCD as you want, and create a Circle for every group, subject or mood.
5) Do any of the above, but also limit occasional posts as warranted by sharing with targeted individuals, regardless of your Circles setup.
It would, of course, be nice if Google let you set a default for sharing that you could then adjust only when needed, rather than having to specify who gets access with every single post. But I trust they're working on that! (Or maybe it exists and I've missed it. If so, please tell me in comments.)
* This will be the first of two posts from me on the implications and usage of Circles. Part two to come ...