We’ve added a few new verbs to the English lexicon in the past few years: first, we began to “friend” people. Then we began to “follow” people. Here is another one: “circle me.”
One of the distinct advantages Google+ has over social networks such as Facebook and Twitter is the ability to precisely communicate with groups of people. Google calls it “targeted sharing.” While this is possible in Facebook it’s rather cumbersome and clunky. Twitter relies on hashtags which work well, but does not allow for private group messaging.
In Google+, a “circle” is a group that you create. There are a few default groups that are created for you, but you can create as many additional circles as you would like. Organizing people into your circles is as easy as dragging and dropping their profile photo onto the circle. For specific instructions on how to setup your circles, I recommend viewing yesterday’s post by Chad Kafka which contains three excellent screencast tutorials.
Circles enable custom filtering of messages, “targeted sharing” as Google calls it. Each of your posts can be sent to all, some, or none of your circles:
- Private Message: visible only to the person you specify by typing in their email address.
- Public: available to anyone with access to Google+
- Individual Circles: visible only to people you have added to the circle.
- Extended Circles: visible to the people in the circle and to the people in their circles.
Have you ever sent a private message to someone through a social network that was then re-posted publicly? A sticky situation likely ensued. The Google Engineers have thought through this situation by allow the author of a post to restrict the ability to re-post. For messages that are re-postable, a friendly reminder asks you to consider your action before it’s to late.
Accepting someone as a friend on Facebook is a big deal. Once you accept them, they have full access to whatever information you have added into your profile, unless you’ve created limited profiles (which most people haven’t). Their friend request obligates you to share everything with them. The same thing with Twitter. Once someone follows you, you, they see everything you post. In Google+, when someone adds you, they don’t receive access to anything unless you explicitly give it to them. You can even specify how much of your public profile individual circles can view. You are in control, not the people who follow, friend, or circle you.
When viewed through the lens of education, circles make a lot of sense. The lines of professional and personal are easily blended on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. A message is either public to your entire network or private to only one individual. Circles makes it possible to tailor the message to your audience with out needing to created separate accounts for your personal and professional life. Those pictures from last weekend? You probably should only share those with your immediate friends. Your latest blog post probably deserves a wider audience.
The big question is when Google+ will be rolled out to Google Apps for Education customers. No one knows for sure, but several reports indicate that it will be in the coming months, not years. Once available, here are some ways that circles could be used in an educational setting:
- Create a circle for each class that you teach. Quickly share links, documents, videos, and assignments with students.
- Allow students to create circles for group projects. They can easily communicate about the project and share resources. When the project is done, the circle is removed.
- For teachers who have multiple sections of the same class, mix your students into discussion circles. The circle makes the discussion possible and is easy to monitor.
- Circles provide an excellent informal collaborative space for departments to share ideas, tips and ask questions.
- School administrators can create a circle for an entire grade to easily and simply send message to a large number of students without spamming the rest of the school.
- Circles makes it easy to communicate to members of a team or other extracurricular event.
There are a few features that could make Circles even better:
- Integrate circles with Apps for Ed “groups”. This would allow for the simple creation of a circle with all of the members of a grade, class, department, committee, etc.
- Allow for document sharing to a circle.
- Share a form directly with the members of a circle.
- Allow the creation of an “inner circle” which would allow for breakout groups within a larger group.
- The ability to create a circle in a single click based on an existing structure such as a Twitter list, members of a Google Site, contributors to a document, commenters on a blog, etc.
Google+ has introduced a new twist onto sharing and managing the publication of information with Circles. It appears to have great potential. Not everyone agrees, however. In a thought full post, blogger David Winer explains,
“You might feel a rush to organize your friends into categories when you start to use it. But you’ll give up after a dozen or so, as soon as you hit one that defies categorization. You’ll say to yourself “I’ll come back to this later.” You won’t.” [Source]
David goes on to argue that part of the popularity of Twitter and Facebook is the lack of organization. People are lazy, and don’t want to organize their networks, I agree. However, privacy is becoming an increasing concern of many web-users and “noise” on social networks is also becoming very noisy. Time will tell if laziness will overrule organization.
If Google+ flops like a Wave, one thing is clear: Google has pushed the issue of “targeted sharing” to the front of the conversation. The other big social media networks will likely respond with a solution of their own and that’s good news for everyo