Daniel Westheide

on making software

Google+ Circles: Square Them, Please!

More than two months ago, I wrote an article about the then brand-new Google+ and its most prominent feature, Circles, announcing a follow-up in which I would dwell on the shortcomings and problems of this feature. Well, since I only found the time to write this article now, some of those problems have either already been addressed or at least acknowledged by the Google+ team, or they have already been discussed by other people. So, please forgive me if any of the points I make in this article are an old hat to you.

The fair-play network

During the last couple of months, I have been using Google+ quite a lot, and I noticed that it does its job very well when it comes to helping me to protect my privacy. Only sharing something with a specific circle of friends, but not with your co-workers, for example, is a breeze.

However, I also noticed that this is not the primary motivation for me and many others to use Google+ and its Circles feature. Somehow, the idea of Circles lends itself to being a fair-play social network user, one who cares about not spamming the people he is connected to with stuff they are most certainly not interested in. You do that, of course, by having circles for each of your different interests groups, and posting the stuff only to the appropriate circle.

While this basically works, it also makes the thing I shared private when all I wanted was be friendly to the people whom I assumed not to be interested in that posting. Alright, this posting can still be shared by those people who did see it in the first place, but wouldn’t it be great if I was able to make something public in the first place, and still prevent certain circles from seeing it in their default stream?

Also, certain people are just not into fair-play, but I’m still interested in some of the things they share. As a consumer, I have an all-or-nothing choice to make: Either accept to receive all of that person’s postings, or none at all. My suggestion would be that people can publish certain circles of interest, and others can then subscribe to those circles. Those circles would be public and not meant to protect your privacy.


Currently I have about 80 people in twelve circles. This is not much at all. Yet, I already noticed that managing your circles can become a problem with this low number of people.

The thing is, if you use your circles to be a fair player, you want to organize the people in your circles by various dimensions – for instance, by interest, by language, and possibly by location, and probably also by how close you are to them. I don’t really want to have a circle “Software developers, German”, and another one, “Software developers, English”, and so on for my other interests. Hence, I really miss the feature to share postings with the intersection of two or more circles. This would radically reduce the number of circles I need for my purposes.


In my opinion, Google+ Circles are still the best currently available way of doing social networking. However, there are numerous issues that prevent it from being the perfect solution catering to my specific needs and customs. I am not sure if some of my ideas would pollute the incredibly clean and simple design of G+ by adding a lot of complexity to the user interface. Am I asking for squaring the cirlce?