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Evan Williams
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A box of rain. Actually, a box of tap water.

I was in the store, and I observed people buying absurd amounts of bottled water, in preparation for hurricane Irene.

I had and impulse to dismiss them as foolish, but it occurred to me that there was and easy way to have plenty of emergency water on hand, in the even of a disruption of the water supply.

So I got a big plastic box for $6, and I fulled it with water from the tap.

So, for a few dolars, I have a many day supply of fresh water. And, if it's not needed (as is overwhelmingly likely), I have a plastic box to use for something.

Plastic box FTW.

Like most people on Google+, I there are many people I don't know who have put me in their circles. I assume they are operating on the twitter model of following people who they think will say something interesting, and, for whatever reason, they believe I am in that category.

Some people I know have been initially upset by this, and wondered if they should block these random people. I usually observe that sharing posts is completely under your control, and that there is no need to worry about strangers putting you in their circles. I have already made friends with some of these strangers. Fear not.

But that's not my topic here. I'm going to talk about re-following. That's also a twitter thing, culturally. Someone follows you, you follow them back. Someone use to FB might also feel like they need to reciprocate when someone they don't know adds them to their circles. People create a circle called unknowns, and put such people in it.

I have done this. I called my unknowns circle Went To France, though I have since shortened that to its initials. I made that circle, at first, kind of reflexively. I was not in on the design of Google+. I didn't read the manual, I'm an American. So I just began to toss those strangers into Went To France, and went to town. There are, as I write this, 358 people in there. Probably more by the time I am done typing.

The thing is, I have realized that it's wrong, and a mistake, and I can't stop myself from doing it.

Those clever people who designed this crazy thing did so fully anticipating the model of people having followers, and they planned for it. They designed things so that, when someone who you do not know and have no particular reason to follow puts you in a circle, the correct response is DO NOTHING. Really.

But, you say, what about serendipity. Surely these people will be saying interesting things. Well, you are right, they will, which is why you can click on the incoming stream in the left column, and see all their posts, or at least the ones they shared with you.

But, you say, how will I be able to intentionally publish stuff to my G+ peeps (my fans!), if I don't have a circle for them, huh. Well, if they have you in their circles, and you make something public, they will see it. If you are trying to publish something that random people you do not know can read, public is probably what you are looking for. Extended Circles might also be what you are looking for, but I didn't read the manual, I'm an American.

Really, there are two uses for the Unknowns/Went To France circle. The first is, if you specifically would like to post only to people you don't know. Like, hi, I don't know you, tell me about yourself. That's a legit use, but it's maybe not such a typical one. I've not seen any posts like that.

The second, which is probably much more typical, is politeness. You followed me, so I shall follow you. It makes it friendlier. I followed +Ray Ozzie because I worked for him 20 years ago, and he's a good person. He's also an important, famous person these days, so I had no idea if he would remember me. Soon thereafter, he added me to his circles, and I was happy to see that. But, did he really remember me, or was he being polite and re-following. Got no idea.

But, you know what, you don't have to be polite. It's cool. It's fine to not re-follow people. They likely will not notice. And, if they do, they will understand.

Reflexive re-following is actually bad. It fills your stream with stuff from strangers, sometimes strangers posting in languages you do not understand, making inside jokes you do not get. Remember, there's that incoming button, so you can see those posts any time. But you don't have to see them all the time. This may be a big reason people ask to mute circles.

It also makes for some HUGE circles. Many of the complaints I've seen from people getting to the 5000 limit for a circle are caused by re-following. Just don't do it, and that's not an issue.

And it can confuse your actual friends/family/acquaintances. My friend +Craig Swanson (buy his t-shirts) came to me this afternoon and asked how he knew some person. He explained that he must know this person, because all of his friends had him in their circles. Well, we all had this guy in our circles because we were re-following. None of us know him. But Craig didn't know that.

So, given that I've made a clear and reasonable explanation of why you should not re-follow, why to I keep doing it

I don't know. I can't stop. I feel compelled. I just keep doing it.

Maybe it's the collecting impulse. Maybe it's habit. I don't know.

But Went To France is up to 361. And it feels good.
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