If you aren’t inside Google+ yet, then circles are the new Lists from Twitter, or Groups from Facebook. By putting people into a circle, you can then target your shouts, tweets, posts (pick a word depending on which you are most comfortable with!) to a specific audience by including particular circles in the “Share with” box.

At first glance, this seems intuitive and logical, and solves some of the privacy and noise issues that have been found in other social networking environments. If you don’t want any of your work colleagues to see the photos from this weekend, then you only need send it to your closest friends. So, let’s do the pros first.

It IS intuitive. You can drag and drop people simply from your top list of friends into the chosen circle(s) below. People can be in more than one circle, too, and you can have as many circles as you want, named as you choose.

Any post which is sent to specific circles is marked as Limited and can only be viewed by those within that circle. However, no-one can see the name of your circles, and by clicking on Limited will only see the thumbnail photo of those it has been sent to, their name and link, and the total who have received it. You can also send to Extended Circles, which will send it to those in the circles of those you are connected to. A bit like Extended family!

This level of targeting is a good thing and it means that your notification stream is not filled with rubbish that is irrelevant to you. However, posts sent to Limited or Extended Circles have to date been able to be reshared publicly. Then came an update from Google saying that resharing publicly would be permanently disabled, and a post that is shared with a limited circle can only be reshared with another limited circle, rather than circulated across everyone. This will not stop posts going viral in future, but it may mean it takes rather longer to go viral on Google+ than it does on FB…..just a thought for viral marketers!

You are notified every time anyone adds you to a circle, and can then add them to the appropriate circles in your Google+. Or block them. So, if someone you do not want to have contact with adds you to a circle, you know immediately and can take appropriate action.

I’m sure there are more Pros to the circles, but let’s look at some cons of this approach.

Nothing you post will be relevant to everyone in a circle, unless it is a circle of one! This means that you need to slice and dice your friends according to what you post. Which you don’t know until you come to post it. And quite often I want to post something to 90% of the people in a circle but not others. Currently, there is no Minus sign to stop a certain person in a circle receiving that item.

The list of circles can become very long in just a few hours so your circles need to be aptly named so that you can find them by typing the first few letters into the share box. However, this means you need to remember who is in which circle and therefore who will want to receive this post. This is going to become more difficult as time goes on and more people are added to your circles.

SO, you have to be canny when creating and naming your circles. And that doesn’t happen at the outset because this is all new and wonderful and people are coming at you from all sides. And, I suspect, for many, this will be the first time you have tried to pigeonhole the people you know, on the fly. After all, that person who you met as a FOAF (Friend Of A Friend), who you then bumped into coincidentally at an event which was off-topic for you, so you started following their tweets on that topic, and have since slept on their sofa on a visit to a different town, and your kids are now friends – what circles do you put them in?!

Or the CEO of a global company who happens to have joined Google+, and many of whose colleagues you know quite well, where do you put them? A CEO circle?! Circles are the new tags and you need to think them through so you don’t accidentally misuse them.

Whilst adding people to a circle from the outset makes sense, we have no idea who is going to join Google+ and add us to a circle. Therefore, now Google + is open to everyone, you may have to create circles as people come in, which means making judgements on the fly. So, it’s easy with, say, all the Empire Avenue people, because that is the only place we know them from. Or for all the people from the IM world like Pirillo and Scoble – into the IM circle with you! But for friends who we met through work and who share various interests, we need to segregate them, and that requires consideration.

Circles don’t appear to cut out noise. If I am in someone’s circle and they post something, I receive it under Incoming. Whether I want to or not. Yet, I have had no choice about whether they put me in a circle. On Twitter, if someone follows you, that is their choice to do so. On Facebook, people send friend requests, which you can ignore. In neither case do you then receive info from them, whether you want to or not. Posts in Incoming can be muted or blocked, but these posts can drown out the incoming posts from people you may choose to hear from unless you manually mute or block them.

Circles can overlap, but you cannot, as yet, nest circles within circles, which would be useful eg all VPs, CEOs and senior execs could sit on the outside of a company circle, with your other contacts in the company in an inner circle, or vice versa. This would limit the number of circles which you need to create, whilst giving you the control over who to post to.

I am unsure what happens when you have the same person in several circles and add all of those circles to a post. Does that person receive duplicate messages? Surely not?! The duplication of posts through over-zealous sharing was dealt with early on in the field trial but until this week there has been a drop off of noise generally on Google+ – summer, competition, tweaks being made etc.

That is likely to change now G+ is open to the whole world and it will be interesting to watch the feedback over the coming weeks as people from the non-geeky world hear about it and give it a go. More shortly!

And my final problem with circles is that I no longer know which circle to post anything to. In the past, I just posted to my wall or to Twitter and it was down to the audience to decide whether or not they wanted to read it and respond. Now, I cannot remember precisely who is in which circle and whether they will appreciate what I wish to share….things may go a little quiet in my so-me Google+ world!

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology