I am bemused that I can’t figure out how to use Google circles.
I can’t quite figure out what’s what with the social gesture they call “share.” I think, they call it “post” as well.
Out in the real world if I share something with a mailing list or one or more email correspondents the gesture presumes that they will be interested. Hopefully they will be grateful. If they aren’t grateful, one hopes they will give a moment to the question – why did he share this? Sharing isn’t a gift. It has aspects of reciprocity, power, and selfishness embedded in it. At this point I’m reminded of the sarcastic cliche “thanks for sharing.”
All of this is entangled in the nature of the relationship you have with the audience.
When I post in my blog, or on twitter, or (rarely) on Facebook the nature of the gesture is entirely different than sending an email because I do not pick the audience. My audience has volunteered to listen to my mumblings. In this case the sharing moves closer to being a gift. I write and you all can pick and choose as you please. I don’t expect much. I don’t expect you to read. I don’t expect you to respond.
Newly minted blog authors often get this wrong, having started a blog they are harboring those expectations. They assume their subscribers have some responsibility to interact with them. And then, they are disappointed. If they continue in the practice they learn to let go of those presumptions. Subscribers get it wrong too. I have a friend with a blog and she has a few subscribers who respond to every posting. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that they maybe be confused about the nature of the relationship.
This helps to explain why I seem to cringe when people use the word “conversation” in the context of blogging etc. al. There are norms in conversation. For example, it is impolite to ignore your partner in a conversation. In blogging, twittering, etc. the norm is to ignore.
So back to Google+ circles. I have moved small portion of my contacts into the system and dutifully tagged them into appropriate circles. And now I have no idea which people to send the typical random update. Because the act of tagging a post with an audience instantly creates, for me, responsibilities.
Take for example a perfectly reasonable Twitter update like: “Cat is staking the gold finch outside the window and they both know it. #animalsatplay” In Google+ I am required to sort out which of my circles to send that update too. And honestly the answer turns out to be none!
Making such decisions is exhausting. I have to consider each individual. I can reduce this cost by deciding to write status updates targeted to a particular circle. This isn’t going to work.
What twitter, and facebook have in common is how minimally burdened with social entanglements posting is. Which is good for their owners; lowering the barrier to contributions is good. Blogging is very similar to those, except in so far as the blogger decides to target an audience and thus takes on responsibilities to that audience. IM, email, mailing lists, and forums are totally not like this. Since, with each interaction, you target a particular audience you own the responsibility to stay on topic and obey the whole suite of social norms implied by that.
So far Google+ and it’s circles feels like it’s in the 2nd camp.
This maybe a classic and fascinating case of the oft observed disconnect between what users say they want and what users actually do.