Google Plus Circles Don’t Solve My Problem

When I first saw Google Plus circles, I thought this was a great idea. On Facebook, I have a bunch of “friends”, most of whom are people I talk to only rarely, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years.

With Google Plus, I can categorize these “friends” into different circles. How awesome is that? Most of the people I’ve had contact with on Plus are people I know through programming, so I made a “Geeks” circle and started filling it in. Right now that circle has 113 members, compared to 8 in friends.

This really appeals to the uptight organized engineer in me, but then I realized that this doesn’t solve any real problem.

I’ve never liked Facebook, and circles don’t make me like Plus any more. My problem with Facebook isn’t that I need to categorize the incoming stream of info based on my relationship with people. The problem is that the incoming stream of info is almost entirely uninteresting!

With circles, I now have multiple streams of totally uninteresting info. Here’s a sampling of what I see in my Geeks stream this morning:

  • Robert Rothenberg says that it’s raining.
  • Robert Rothenberg asks “Have you looked at the source code of a G+ page? It’s all JavaScipt, and dynamically creates the page from a data structure. Interesting….”
  • Piers Cawley still has to write some slides for OSCON.
  • Curtis Poe posted a video of his daughter.
  • Kang-min Liu (aka Gugod) posted something in Chinese.
  • Karen Pauley made some chili con carne.

I’ve categorized people based on my relationship to them, but what I really want is to categorize the things they write. Of the items above, only two of them are geek-related, and only one of them is really interesting to me as technical information.

So what did doing the work of putting people into these circles gain me? Absolutely nothing. I’m still left wading through a torrent of stuff to fish out the few interesting bits.

This is exactly the same problem I’ve always had with Facebook.

Of course, this problem is already solved. The solution is called “tags” or “categories”. I care more about the topic than the writer, though both are important. Just knowing who wrote something isn’t very helpful.

And yes, I know that circles do solve a real problem for some people. If I posted a lot of personal stuff on Facebook then circles might actually be useful for me.

Disclaimer: When I say that your content is “totally uninteresting”, I mean to it’s not what I am interested in. I’m sure Curtis’s daughter is totally adorable.


Michael Peters, on 2011-07-22 13:29, said:
It seems like the real problem is that the people in your circles don’t know how to classify their content and their friends. Maybe they need a Geek circle like you have and they should put you in that circle. And then when they post non-geek content they should make sure it only goes to the right circles.

But you have a similar problem even if you introduce tags. Your “friends” still need to properly classify their content or it will either irritate you or you won’t see it.

irishladd, on 2011-07-22 14:56, said:
I agree with the comment above me. The real problem is that the people in your stream aren’t posting to the correct circles. You’ll run into the same problem with tags because people are ALWAYS going to incorrectly categorize their content.

The solution would be tags that YOU define…it could then look in status updates for content that could potentially be interesting to you. Google already does search well. They really should apply those same techniques to searching the stream.

Vehbi Ozturk, on 2011-07-22 18:57, said:
The problem with search on social networks is that it’s kinda unnatural. The solution should be in between search and tagging (That’s what we’re working on to find a solution, btw). When you query Ruby in your stream then it’s a “work”. You “intend” to search for Ruby. Then why don’t you do that in Google itself? Answer might be you can have an excellent Ruby people on your stream but you don’t for every possible topic.

Zbigniew Lukasiak, on 2011-07-23 09:13, said:
I think that putting the burden on classification on the sender is a good solution - the sender knows best what content he is sending. But this is only half of the solution - the receiver needs to declare what kind of content he wants to receive - because he knows best what he wants to receive. Requiring the sender to guess what I would like to receive is a failure.

All this is nothing new - this is what the classic Publish Subscribe pattern is about, I really wish this was applied more widely.

Chad A Davis, on 2011-07-23 13:26, said:
Google+ isnt very useful for professional content because it was designed to compete with Facebook, which also isn’t very useful for professional content. Subscribing to particular tags of a blog is still the best way to maximize the signal to noise ratio. Authors put care into their blogs. And Curtis even maintains separate personal and professional blogs.