Friday 5 August 2011

Complex circles, decision-making, expectations, plausible deniability

Google+ circles are on a conceptual basis well argued (e.g. the much talked about real world analogy) but it seems they do not to well for many of us. I though I share my limited observations in a blog post (if I would have done a real study I would publish it in a top conference ;-)

To me deciding  what circles I need and where to put people in these circles is pretty hard – ok I am in academia and this is not a typical environment (separation of work, hobby, friends...). Which of my co-workers are friends; do I differentiate between students in a course and the ones who do a thesis with me. Who belongs to “family” or do I need 5 or more categories to describe my family? It seems the number of circles is growing equally fast than the number of friends. Its probably just me who can not discriminate between different parts of live.

The implications of the many circles is that I have to make many more decisions than on facebook. If I accept an invitation it is a yes/no/not now decision in facebook (about 300-500ms plus the time to click ;-) … much longer with circles. When I post it is again time for making decisions – whom to include and who not to include.

The main issue with circles is for me the responsibility in sharing. In theory this is the great advantage – but in real live I think it is not (it is just a way of keeping old way of communication alive for some more time - if I want to address specific people I can use email ;-). As the others know that I have the choice to limit sharing to circles the expectation is that I manage this well. With whom should I share my unhappiness about a too long faculty meeting – thinking in circles – probably no one (or only the people waiting for me). Who should know that I have read an interesting article about planting bamboo – again in circles – probably only my wife because she asked me about it.

In summary this privilege (or the responsibility) to be able to specify whom we share information with make the posts much more predictable. I share with the HCI community the calls for papers, links to surveys we need participants, and the great papers we published, I share with the family the nice photo from our weekend hike, and I share with my students a link to a great article in the pervasive magazine they should read. Given my option to share to groups, sharing a photo of my daughter and me building a pneumatic lift with my students and colleagues would be inappropriate. However I argue that to share beyond circles – sharing things we would usually not share with this group – is what makes my facebook stream so much more exciting that the google+ stream. The comments of the people who I would not have included in a circle based addressing are the once which are often most interesting. From an information theoretical point of view the facebook stream has more entropy and carries massively more information as it is less predictable.

… and in facebook we (still) have an excuse (sort of plausible deniability) as there is no real responsibility for the sender to limit the receivers – it just a binary responsibility of is it OK to share or not.


Christopher Lueg said...

facebook allows targeting specific people and even groups when posting content but it's such poor interface design that most people don't even know about it ;)

I also think circles is more suitable for reducing the information flow and less for targeting.

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