Google+ introduced circles. Facebook followed. In short – when adding friends you have to decide what group they belong to. Joel Spolsky called this “autistic”. I agree with that view, but it only covers to process of creating and filling circles/groups/lists. But what complicates things even more is when you share – you have to decide which of the circles you want to share your thoughts with. To me this is rather hypocritical. You are something that you don’t want part of your acquaintances to know. With all my respect to that idea and the fact that it truly reflects real-life situations, I have three objections:
First, a little ideological point – society is changing to a more open one. Growing this kind of two-faced (or more properly – n-faced) internet society is a step in the wrong direction. There is a song from the musical Jekyll & Hyde – Facade, which illustrates the two-faced nature of people, and obviously disapproves of it. Why are we helping that nature thrive online? As Eric Schmidt himself said – if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. In this context I’d add – “or at least don’t post it online”.
Second, it becomes very complex. What happens if someone from a circle you share with reshares the message to circles you don’t want to share with? Forbid it, show a warning to the resharer? And won’t the regular user just throw all this complexity away. Yes, I know that for us engineers and social-media gurus this is not that complex, but ask your mother about it.
And third, this is not necessarily suitable for the Internet. Usually, you either don’t care who sees your posting, or you want only some particular people to see it, or you don’t want just a few people not to see it (boss, ex, parents). There are pretty good solutions for the first two categories. if you want everyone to see it, post it as public. If you want only a few people to see it, send it only to them – on skype, via private messages or emails. (And we know people do that – they send links to private picasa albums, they send dirty jokes via skype.).
What to do about the third case – you don’t want only a few people to see something – it’s still hypocritical, but sometimes life forces it – it will be bad if your parents see the party (this is the usual example), it will be bad if your boss sees you cursing your job. Well, if you could only hide the message from these people – problem solved. Even if a colleague of yours reshares your curses, the message holds the limitation and won’t be displayed to your boss. (it’s a different story whether you should friend your boss on social networks other than LinkedIn). A thing to note here is that this feature would be used rarely – only in very specific cases (such cases are often given as examples for the need of circles, but I believe they are pretty rare). The default scenario will be “open communication”. And most importantly – it is simple. You don’t need a master’s degree in social networking to understand the behavior.
So, I think circles will fail. And I hope they will, so that we can foster a more open online communication.