Not too long ago, Google+ came in like a whirlwind and quickly, not to mention inexplicably, became the darling of the tech collective. At last, people opined, not only a Facebook competitor, but a social network that’s actually superior to Facebook!
The root of the rave reviews regarding Google+ centered on a new feature it called Circles. Circles, in essence, is a way for users to categorize their friends into varying groups. From there, they can determine what kind of information they share with each Circle. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea. After all, it’s not as if we communicate everything to everyone in our real non-virtual lives. A hilarious link you might share with a college buddy may simply be inappropriate for your serious co-worker.
But Circles, it seems to me, sounds better in theory than in practice.
Peter Pachal explained why shortly after Google+ debuted:
The main problem with Google Circles is that it’s tedious. While I agree that most people separate their contacts into various groups in real life, doing so in a social network is a chore. It’s one of the reasons wehave different social networks (LinkedIn for work, Facebook for friends, etc.). Asking people to do this kind of organizing proactively, on a single network, vastly overestimates the patience of Web users. Sure, some people are very organized and left-brained (like the engineers who created Google+), with spotless inboxes and well-maintained lists of contacts, but my feeling is that the vast majority aren’t. And of all the things that have turned people off of Facebook over the years, the lack of focus on friend-organizing tools isn’t one of them.
For as talented as the engineers at Google are, they often forget that most of the world isn’t comprised of Googlers. Not everyone is tech minded. Not everyone wants as many options as possible. Sometimes, ease of use is paramount. That said, it stands to reason that when you release a service aimed at the masses, men and women, old and young, simplicity is a prerequisite for mainstream adoption.
Circles may not be complex for anyone who stays up to date on technology, but as Pachal explains, it puts the burden on users to “think about each and every contact and put them in a specific bucket.”
To use the feature effectively, users will certainly have to create new circles, and that requires even more thought. After using Google+ for a few minutes last night, I was often unsure which Circles to put certain people in and, more to the point, which to leave them out of. And what if you create a new Circle that should include some of the people in other Circles you already have? You have to go back over all your contacts and reorganize. Ugh.
The web is a landscape filled with entertainment and distraction. It’s where people go to have fun, learn, explore, and interact with friends. Adding a layer of complexity to their social networking experience just doesn’t seem like a winning strategy and one of the few reasons I don’t think Google+ has much long term traction.