How to Use Google+ Circles and Why You Should Even Care


There’s been a lot of confusion about Google+ and how to manage your Circles… or even what they hell they are. I’ll go over what Circles are and aren’t… and how I use them to manage my Google+ contacts and information.

Google+ is different from Twitter and Facebook both in the way you obtain and distribute information. In Twitter you can follow people to see their updates, they don’t have to follow you back. It makes for an easy one way street for people who are interested in the updates of others. In Facebook, it’s always a completely mutual relationship. If you want to see someone’s updates, you need to request their friendship, and the other person has to accept it. You will then be mutually sharing.

Google+ handles this in a completely new way. You have circles, which are basically categories of people. People can be in more than one circle, but they have to be in at least one circle to be a part of your contacts. When you go to post an update, you get to choose what people will see that update in their stream. But it’s still a bit more complicated than that.

What are Circles?

Let’s go over this one point at a time.

You create Circles to categorize and organize your contacts on Google+, and you can create any that you want. The default ones are actually a great start. You drag contacts into your circles to categorize them. (note: when you add someone to a circle they will be notified that you added them to your circles, but not WHAT circles… for instance if you name a circle “asshats” they won’t ever know… well unless you tell them)

These Circles control not only who sees your updates but also whose updates you see in your stream. When you go to your stream you can see the full stream or you can click to see just a certain circle.

WOC - Google+ Circles

You can also click to see posts from people who you haven’t added to YOUR circles but who have shared something with a circle that they have included you in, these are in the “Incoming” stream. It may sound complicated but in practice it isn’t. I will also show you how to get around dealing with ever having to click on “Incoming”.

WOC - Google+ Circles

When you share something on Google+ you get to choose who sees it. That doesn’t guarantee they WILL see it, it just means that it will be available in their stream if they look at it, and you are in a circle that they include in that stream. Ok so yeah it does start to sound complicated here. But seriously it’s not.


How I Organize My Circles

I have three distinctly separate categories of people in my greater social network. Photographers, filmmakers and new media people. There is definitely some crossover but those are the main categories. Within those categories there are types of relationships… I have friends, acquaintances and followers. So my circles currently look like this:

WOC - Google+ Circles

Every single person I add goes into either Family (blood relatives), Friends (people I’d invite to my birthday party), Acquaintances (people I know or have at least conversed with online or IRL), Followers (people who have added me but I don’t know who they are) or Following (people that I have added so I can follow them, but they don’t know me). That pretty much sums up all the relationships I have in the world. Some of those people also go into Clients. Then out of those people they mostly also fall into the Photographers, Filmmakers or New Media circles.

This allows me to control who sees what I post. My filmmaker friends aren’t necessarily interested in my posts about still photography, and my new media friends might not be interested in the camera gear posts I do… and the filmmakers might get annoyed by all the internet meme stuff I love to talk about. Using Circles when I share something allows me to target specific audiences, and makes sure that I stay relevant to the people who are seeing my posts. There’s no better reason to unfollow someone than to just see a bunch of crap they post that you don’t care about.

This also allows me to control what I have to see. I am interested in a wide variety of topics… and love to see new information in many different categories. Unfortunately I just don’t always have time to watch everything out there. With my Circle system if I’m not strapped for time I just look at the stream. It shows me everything from everyone in any of my circles. If I don’t have much time or am not in the mood for a flood of stuff I will either just look at my Friends circle or my Watch circle, which I set up specifically as a sort of “must see” circle. It’s full of people that I almost at any time would be interested in seeing what they post. If you have a crush on someone, they belong in here. Or if you hate someone… they might belong there too. Anyone whose posts you just can’t miss… put them in a circle meant just for that.

The last question I’ve gotten regarding my choices for circles is about the Following circle. This is where I put everyone who follows me who I don’t know and don’t immediately find compelling to have to see everything they post. This is counter to the way that most people manage Twitter or even Facebook. On Twitter if someone follows you because they are interested in you but you don’t follow them back because you’re not as interested in what they post about… it makes sense. In Google+ it actually makes sense to add these people to a circle so that they can actually see the things you post about. If you don’t have them in a circle then they won’t see your posts… which was the point of them adding you to a circle in the first place. So everyone who adds me gets added back, EVERYONE. That way they won’t miss whatever it is that they wanted by adding me in the first place.

Obviously Google+ is brand new and there are many many ways to handle any given system, so I’m sure I’ll be changing and refining things as time goes on, but a little over a week in and this is what I find works for now. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it better? Share them in the comments below.

Jared Abrams
Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
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