- July
Posted By : Adrian Chan
Google+ Circles: a new design for talk?

A long while back I wrote up a case for a message-based social networking standard that would couple posts and responses, and which would permit actions on posts that could be updated on participating social networks to show state in real time. I called it action streams.
Imagine a twitter in which each tweet had sharing and attachment links as here, where activity on your tweet, be it in linkedin, FB, etc, would show up live in your twitter client.

The gist of the argument was that twitter’s flaw, and the greater shortcoming of all message-based systems, was that they were not coupled to responses. The statement-response couplet is the basis of all conversation. As the buy-sell is the couplet of all exchange transactions. Stock exchanges are coupled posts. Why, then, can’t message-based social networks use a similar model?

It strikes me now that Google+ reflects some of that argument. Now, I know many of us in social media are fine with a post-to-many model and don’t particularly want posts coupled to responses. We don’t in fact want a conversation to develop around every post. But we do want social data on its use. And would like to be able to track that in real time — including who’s participating and what they like about it.

Likability, like it or not, has become an attribute of the post. For some, the quantified version counts (!): number of likes, +1s. For others, the comments are valuable. But we all know that in many cases the comments add little but a symbolic gesture — an invitation — to the normalized like/+1.

Point being that we are interested in the life and likability of a post. Enough to be interested in its reception.

Back then to coupling. Google+ is doing something interesting with circles. It’s coupling the post to an audience. This gets at the heart of the action stream concept. And google+ has a gesture (+1) and commentary. Plus rich media attachments and urls on the post. So sending a post into circles, tracking its reception, and analyzing conversation should all be possible.

I like this. I think it could be interesting for conversations. I mean circles not just to contain people by relationship type or whatever. And not for feed filtering. But circles as a means of binding some interaction around a post to minimize arbitrary contributions and to maximize substantive commentary.

Circles aren’t currently audiences. They’re a form of targeting, yes, but they’re not a captive audience —  in the sense that a circle page for a post would perhaps satisfy.   What I’ve called a stream bubble — a round of persistent topical conversation suspended in the stream as a bubble shared by members of a circle. And possibly connected through shared circles to other bubbles.

That’s just a thought. I see a conversation model in place now that still aggregates talk around and about A list users. Because that’s where the eyeballs are. But it seems that stream bubbles could offer a type of conversation that has real value. Still stuck to an author, but shared by an audience. This would be new. Transient groups.

Not conversation around and about the person (because they aggregate attention). Not conversation about a topic (loses attention, has moderation issues, etc). But a kind of conversation group that floats, sticks, grows, and pops when its done.

Streaming activity and sharing that across networks is cool. And remains to be realized. Anchoring action within the stream, as a means of preserving signal over the redundancy of noise and the advantages of high profile nodes – that would be even more cool.


  • It is interesting the way Google have gone with Circles. They could be extremely powerful tools for conversation but right now I’m finding the lack of filters and overall noise a bit off putting. If they can solve the noise issues and give us better tools for managing and filtering Circle streams then they could have something extremely powerful!

    Nice piece!

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