Joho the BlogThe mystery of Public and Incoming at Google Circles: An Explainer (unless I'm getting it wrong) - Joho the Blog

The mystery of Public and Incoming at Google Circles: An Explainer (unless I’m getting it wrong)

I thought I understood Google Circles until I tried explaining it to someone. So, let me see if I have this straight.And if I do, then I have a suggestion for Google Plus: Instead of saying that we post to “Public,” tell us we’re posting “To Followers.” And instead of letting us look at our “Incoming” stream, tell us we’re looking at “From Followers.”

Let’s say I have two circles: Friends and Coworkers. Into Friends I put Fred, Fanny, and Felicia. Into Coworkers I put Carol, Carl, and Cathy.

I now post something to Friends. Assume all members of my Friends circle have put me in one of their own circles. My Friends now see my posts whenever they check the stream from the circle they’ve put me into.

Now, it turns out that my coworker Carol hates my guts and hates hearing from me, so she hasn’t put me in any of her circles. Does she see my posts to my Coworkers circle anyway? If not, then either (a) I have the illusory sense that I’m posting to her when I post to my Coworkers circle, or (b) Carol is seeing my posts even though she does not want me in any of her circles.

Google Plus solves this dilemma through the Incoming stream and the Public circle. By putting Carol into one of my circles, two things happen:

(1) When I check my Coworker stream, I now see what Carol posts to Public. Since Carol doesn’t have me in any of her circles, she doesn’t want me to see what she posts exclusively to those circles. But, if Carol posts to Public, it is visible to anyone who has encircled her…even people like me whom she hates. If Carol didn’t want me to see it, she shouldn’t have posted it to Public. (Think of posting to Public as posting “To Followers.”) [Note about an hour later: Thanks to useful discussion of this post over at G+, I realize I should have added that posting to Public means also that your post has a publicly accessible URL.]

(2) My posts now show up in Carol’s Incoming stream. That stream shows all posts from people who have encircled Carol. If she doesn’t want to see my posts in her Incoming stream, she can mute me. (Think of Incoming as “From Followers.”)

The asymmetry of Circles is their genius, but, just as with Twitter, they lead our mortal brains astray. We think that because we’re posting to a circle, everyone in that circle will receive our post. Not exactly. If they have encircled me, it will show up within that circle’s stream. If they have not encircled me, it will be visible to them in their Incoming stream.

So, if you are an Internet Celebrity who has been encircled by 100,000 people, but who has encircled only ten close friends, your posts to your circle of ten will be visible only to those ten. (If they haven’t encircled you, your posts will show up in their Incoming stream.) If you post to Public, all 100,000 people will see your post within whatever circle they’ve placed you in.

I understand this as I write it. But, wait a second…yeah, it’s gone. :(

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7 Responses to “The mystery of Public and Incoming at Google Circles: An Explainer (unless I’m getting it wrong)”

  1. Assuming that you and Carol have both circled the same coworker, would your post to your extended circle end up showing on Carol’s stream?

  2. Thank you for this excellent description and suggestion for Google. One point, however: I recommend against creating a Circle called “Coworkers” as that requires too much maintenance to be useful. People come and go in the organization you work in. Also, you may change organizations or be working in more than one organization. Therefore, I recommend creating Circles named after the organizations you are affiliated with. Here is my full post on the topic:

  3. Business/network applications is the exception.

    The one exception for this is using circles for work. I use it for different groups of people that i have different kinds of meetings with. i have some people who might be in the circles of two different projects, some in one, one person is actually in five circles. When i start a ‘hangout’ to discuss an issue, think on a topic, or argue about something… the invite goes to the right people. Yes, they can opt out if they want… but assuming we’re all ‘friends’ in the first place, your objections don’t apply.

    But mostly i agree… I don’t like it. see

  4. This diagram from a forum was helpful in explaining message delivery to me…

  5. One question though: it sounds like it gives me a broader audience if i post to “extended circles” (“everyone in my circles and everyone in their circles”) than if I post to “public” (“everyone in my circles + my profile”). Can that be right?

  6. What people forget is the Mobile aspect and its ‘nearby’ circle. ‘Public’ messages are viewable by anyone that is geographically nearby so potentially your ‘Public’ post will be seen by anyone checking the ‘nearby’ stream, while only those that are in your ‘extended circle’ AND nearby would see it there otherwise.

    I use Public only for this ‘nearby’ Twitter-like purpose. If posting to my stream I always use ‘extended circles’ for widest distribution.

  7. […] There are only two types of relationships in social networking. G+ is touted as something new, but it’s really a combination of two elements that I’ve talked about here before: Permission-based and viral-based relationships. G+ combines the viral model pioneered by Twitter, in which you can follow someone you don’t know and hear what they have to say, and Facebook and LinkedIn’s permission-based models, in which you can only engage in relationships with those you know. All the social networks we’ve seen so far are based on one or both of these models. G+’s relationship model mix of the two is a little bit complicated. So much so that it takes a PhD. to explain it. […]

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