The Circles of Google+

In this post I would like to discuss the circles in Google+ based on our recent experience designing InterruptMe.

First of all, I got very happy when I saw that Google+ has the circles because it validates the approach we proposed for InterruptMe, which is that people has assymetric relationships, and assymetric not only because A can follow B, without B having to reciprocate by following A, but also because A and B can assign each other to different social circles without them knowing. This is very important not only because it reflects the way we humans deal with relationships (at different levels of closeness), but also because the information we share is defined by that closeness. This phenomenon was studied sometime ago by Judy Olson while at n research stay at Microsoft Research. They made this huge survey with loads of questions where they basically asked people how likely would it be tha tthey share information X with person Y. Information X was almost everything that can be shared: status updates, pictures, location, etc. Person Y was one of a set of 30+ different persons. The results showed that everything boils down to 5 very distinguishable groups: spouse, family, boss and trusted colleagues, friends, and public. We used these groups to design InterruptMe’s privacy policy.

When you get Google+ you have 4 default circles plus 3 more groups. The default circles, surprisingly, are friends, family, acquaintances and following. The other 3 groups are “all circles”, “extended circles” and public. Trying to match all those categories between the two works we find something like:

spouse = Google+ family
family = Google+ family
boss and trusted colleagues
friends = Google+ friends, all circles, and extended circles,
public = Google+ acquaintances, public

The extra circle “following” emerges of a different phenomenon where I am following someones that I probably don’t know, and I expect that person not to follow me. Thus it’s more of a filter for the Stream that a category to classify the data that gets shared. OK, so far, so good. This is a great step forward and other social networking sites should follow closely.

However this is not all. There is another set of features that need to be implemented in order make social media websites better systems. And it’s the fact that social media should not only be assymetric (as real relations are) but should also be accountable. That is, one should be able to know what others know about me. Facebook has a –very hidden– feature (privacy settings -> connecting on facebook -> preview my profile) where you can see how a particular person sees your profile. This capability is what I called traceability in InterruptMe, or what other have called accountability of social translucent systems. A traceable system allows you to know how another person see you, or rather what they know about you. Enabling something we humans do everyday which is to keep certain image, or change it, or adjust our behaviors to what other people know about us. This is called plausible deniability and it’s a much needed feature (like to “unavailable” or “invisible” status on IM services).

OK, that’s it. You can find more details here:

/Juan David

I just saw that Google+ also has the possibility to review how another person sees your profile (the text box on the right of the image below), which is very good. However, it’s missing the glance-ability that we embedded in InterruptMe’s display, that is, the capacity to see “at a glance” how all of your contacts are seeing you. Moreover, I would add the possibility to see how any member of a particular circle sees my profile.


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