I recently started to actually use my Google+ account. The thing that puzzled me the most were Google+ circles. After reading both the online help, and Guy Kawasaki’s eBook on Google+ I still didn’t completely get it. To figure out what really happens, I created a separate test account that enabled me to try out different scenarios. Here is what I discovered.
1. When you add a person to one of your circles, you are essentially following them and you will see their posts. You can then filter the posts you are viewing to a specific circle. So circles allow you to control how you categorize and view posts from people you follow.
2. When you add a person to one of your circles, they will not automatically see your posts. In order to see your posts, they need to follow you back by adding you to one of their circles.
It appears however that the recently introduced Events function breaks this rule, and allows anyone to invite people they are following, but who are not following them to an event. This has raised a huge uproar in the Google+ community, and I expect will be changed so it will no longer be the case. It is interesting though because other event services like evite allow you to invite people based on their email address only, and don’t require their permission to do so. The challenge for Google is to make privacy work in a social network the same way it works in email. Or not, depending on what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe their goal is to use Google+ to encourage more people to follow people who might invite them to an event!
3. The publisher of a post can elect to publish a post to one or more of his/her circles. But if the publisher mixes posts when they publish, there is no way a follower can filter the posts. For example, if the publisher posts work related information and personal information to one or more circles, followers receive both work and personal information. The same thing is true if the publisher marks the post as public. So circles are only useful to the publisher if they segment their followers by topic of interest.
What I would like to see is for the follower to be able to subscribe to specific topics of interest for a given publisher. But that isn’t what circles are for.
4. There is a sharing option called public. While you might think that this means your post will be published to the world, in fact it actually means that your post will be published to all of your followers, regardless of whether you are following them back (aka circled them) or not. This makes sense when you think about it. A celebrity can then communicate with their fans without having to follow them back as well. Once again there is no way for the follower to segment public posts.
5. Comments and +1s are associated with the original post, and are not automatically sent to the commenter’s followers. Email notifications of the comment are distributed to the poster and previous commenters.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how Google+ circles work. If you liked this article please share it with your friends.