The Two Sides of Circles

I’m puzzled by the circles in plus. (Funny how about ten days ago, nobody would have known what I was talking about.)

Circles are a good tool for reading. They allow you to divide your stream into a number of channels so you can more easily focus your attention.

But circles are bad for sharing. For one thing, if you want to keep something private to a certain group of people, circles provide a deceptive, if not dangerous illusion of that. We all know it’s not the case, it can’t be guaranteed, but less technical people might still be tricked into that old fallacy that anything could remain private on the internet.

And there are other concerns. For example, someone suggested that bilingual plussers such as me should put contacts into circles according to their language. One circle for English, one for German, and the like. When you share something, you share it to the language circle in which the posting is written — this way, people are not bothered with content they do not understand. The problem is: Who am I to make that call? How should I know what languages people speak, and what languages they want to be bothered with? Most Germans are fine with an occasional post in English. And I have even met Americans who will not flee in panic when facing a post in a language they do not understand.

It would be much better to let the reader decide. The language in which a post is written can be detected automatically rather easily. Users could then be given an option to filter what languages they want to see. Or even better, posts could be auto-translated for users who want that. They should be clearly marked as auto-translated, of course, and maybe it should only be done after an explicit push of a button. You’ve got the technology, Google — please plug it in!

But the problem, exemplified here with languages, extends everywhere. I see people on plus who explain that they keep technical, geeky stuff to a circle of geeks. Photography stuff to a circle of photographers. Movie stuff to a circle of movie lovers. All of these posts and conversations are thereby removed from the public. This precludes any chance of people listening in on these conversations, perhaps joining, extending their reach. It takes away from one of the most important aspects of the internet — a redefinition of what the public sphere is.

I would encourage people to share to public. I would encourage Google to give us excellent search and filter tools for the reading side.

I’m sure you’ve got what it takes, Google.

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