Google+ Early Adopters Circles Survey

9 minute read

A few days after the release of Google+ there were lots of discussions around the platform itself, and interestingly enough many of these were around the best way to use and organize Circles, sharing tips, screenshot, information and sometimes laughs. The reason of such interest is that Google created a really engaging UI to play with them thanks to the design of Andy, Shaun, Jonathan and Joseph.

I started thinking about how to organize my Google+ Circles very early, around 9 years old. It was the first page of my first try to keep a diary, and I thought it would have been nice to represent all the people I knew in a nice graph (you can say that I was pretty much destined to be a designer). I did a first sketch, but the connections weren’t right. Then a second. A third. Yes, I was very close to Tommaso, but actually my relation with Gianmaria was more rare, but stronger. A fourth sketch. And what about… A fifth sketch. Well, there was no way. Any criteria I tried failed to be accurate, and being a perfectionist without enough experience to handle failures I got frustrated quite a lot. I gave up… and with that I failed the first time to keep a diary, but that’s another story. While I never tried again to represent my relations with people, I kept thinking about these failures a lot, and years later I understood that this is actually a very hard task that is usually solved by simplifying it drastically, like for example counting the degrees of distance.

With the release of Google+ I wanted to use its hype to understand a little bit better how people were using Circles and try to help others to understand that too. So I started a small survey, that got a quite big response, with 176 people completing out the survey and more than half of them helping also to spread it.

The data is interesting in my opinion, so before entering in a few interesting details, here’s the now traditional graphic, feel free to share it:

Let’s see some details about the results:

  1. Feature:
    As you can see it’s quite clear that the media perception was right: Circles are definitely the most important and interesting feature of Google+, followed in large distance by the Stream and Hangouts. Every other feature is almost irrelevant, even if they got quite a prominent space on the platform. It’s particularly interesting the position of Photos, that received absolutely zero votes, even if I can guess most of the users are fine in having them incorporated in the Stream itself.
  2. Usage type:
    These categories aren’t mutually exclusive, so there is of course some overlap between Talker and Broadcaster, or between Talker and Commenter. However I wanted to make this distinction because I noticed that there are some users that have a more specific usage. For example  Explorers preferred that choice over the combined Talker & Listener, and It’s going to be interesting to see if that number goes up or down if I make a similar survey in the future. However it’s relevant to see that even if existing, there are very few pure Broadcasters, a number overtaken by the pure Commenters. It’s also interesting the difference in choice between Talker and Broadcaster, a subtle detail I used to check if the platform was more perceived as a social tool (Facebook) or as a communication tool (Twitter).
  3. Are Circle working? Are you going to use it in the future?
    These two questions are of course different, but are also slightly correlated. For example it’s interesting to notice that there is a minority of people (2%) that while says that circles are working for them, then they aren’t fully convinced they are going to use it in the future. It’s also relevant to see that while the current satisfaction is high is still less then half (44%) and at the same time most of the people, even the ones for which it’s not working at all, have bright expectations from the future, with just a slight minority (3%) thinking it’s hype.
And then we get at one of the most interesting parts of the survey, the one regarding the kind of circles people are using and the satisfaction they are getting out of it. The way I categorized them is by reading all the circle names submitted and trying to identify patterns. Of course, working as a social experience designer means that I had already a good idea of some kinds of categories, but most of them emerged alone. I have also a few more “edgy” categories that are interesting but aren’t included in the graphic above:
  1. Relation: these are circles named by relationship closeness. They are the Google+ default “Friend”, “Family”, “Acquaintance”, “Following”, plus other like “Love”, “VIP”, “Close Friends”. You can find also interesting categorizations by degrees of distance (1, 2, 3, 4, more). This is the most used category, but this one has  also a strong bias since there are 4 Google+ default ones.
  2. Topic: these are circles named under specific interest topics, using Google+ as a news aggregator tool. You can find here things like “Technology”, “Open Source”, “Linux”, “Photography”, “Recipes”, “Cooking”, “Photography” and similar. Topics has also the highest rate of circles per person (the ratio between the total number of circles and the person using this kind of circles): 3x, beating also the Relation one, artificially boosted by the 4 default ones per person.
  3. Tribe: these are circles named using names that express also a form of identity toward the people in the group. Here you can find things like “The team”, “My sport team”, “Go out mates”, “Tech friends”, “My nerds”, “Trip pals”, “Inner circle”, “Work friends” and similar. As you can see there are different motivation that can create this kind of identification, and at the same time it was hard for me sometime do draw the line between Relation types, Topic types and Tribes, but I tried to see all the other groups from the same person and check style similarities. People that used tribes usually had a 2x ratio, so they have on average at least 2 tribes.
  4. Work: here I tried to exclude work-related Tribes, and adding just things like “Coworkers”, “Freelances”, “Clients”, “Customers” and so on.
  5. School: this is probably a proper subset of the Tribe category, however it’s interesting to see that 12% of the people had this kind of group, and usually just one of them, and usually related to the university or college period.
  6. Via: this is another Tribes subset, and it identifies outlier groups that have been identifies as FOAF, friends of a friend. Here you can find groups like “Friends of Anna”, “Martin’s friends”, “Boyfriend’s pals” and so on. Even if very rarely used, it’s still interesting to me that some people used this criteria to define certain relationships. It’s probably an explicitation of some friend being a “hub”, or couple relationships.
  7. Place: this category is quite obvious, and again probably a kind of Tribe. Here you’ll find circles like “Barcelona friends”, “My USA friends”, “London people” and so on. Sometimes people using just simple names like “Paris” also added an explanation like “I studied there, they are my best friends from that time”.
  8. Language: this is an interesting one, rarely used and often associated with a topic, for example “Tech news (english)”.
  9. Unknown: many people felt the necessity of creating an explicit category for people they don’t know or for people they might want to “check” before deciding if they want to keep them or not. It’s an interesting thing even if not with an high percentage because it shows a different and proactive approach to the “Incoming” stream, meaning probably that they feel it’s not enough.
  10. Judgement: while Dante inspired circles someone suggested were funny, actually a few people had circles that expressed judgement, usually negative ones. I can’t make the names here – some of them are really harsh – and it’s something that puzzles me a bit: why following someone you despise so much?

The final thing I did was correlating the categories to the question about the satisfaction of using that specific configuration of circles. This correlation confirmed me that the “Tribes” approach works very well, having more that 55% of “Yes”, a 11% points increas over the average. The correlation also showed me another unexpected detail: people organizing circles by “Topic” are less satisfied by the results, having -4% over the average of “Yes”, going down to 40%, and almost doubling the percentage of “No”. People using “Relation” categories instead are expectedly on the average.

In a few situations I found also circles simulating boolean operators, so someone created a circle A, a circle B and a circle A + B, by hand, a clear indicator that at least some categories of users want more control… or that the current UI to send messages to A and B isn’t clear enough for everybody. ;)
A few people also felt that asking the circles name in the survey was a violation of their privacy, a clear indicator that Google’s strategy of keeping circles private and with a very detailed privacy control is an excellent feature for many.

In the survey there was also a part free to comment and give suggestions:

  • The overwhelming majority of the features suggestions are related to way to better manage the circles and the stream: better filters, ordering, boolean operators to send, multiple selection of the streams, excluding circles from the stream, the ability to mute people (not block completely), the circle of the people I muted, and so on.
  • Integration with Twitter was also requested by many… interestingly enough, no request to integrate Facebook. ;)
  • Many people wanted to see more clearly from what circle the content is coming from.
  • Shareable circles – or, using a more common term, creating public groups – was a strong request too.
  • Some of them expressed the need to have a better way to discover new people, feeling that “Incoming” is inadeguate. A few of them, probably coming from Friendfeed, suggested a similar way of discovery by showing posts your friends +1’d or commented. It’s interesting also because in stark contrast with another persone that instead wanted the circles were active on the comments too, hiding comments from people outside his circles.
  • Few people were concerned with the circles UI: for them, it’s too fancy.
  • A person asked for an interesting automation, saying that “if a person is in many of my circles, that means it’s closer to me, and as such he’s more relevant”. I didn’t think about this, and surely it won’t work for everybody, but still it’s an interesting consideration.
  • And finally… a guy told me that there were grammar errors in my survey… without pointing out where. :P
And finally, one of the most low profile questions, “Did you already get something interesting out of the circles you created?” instead revealed very interesting stories and values:
  • A teacher that is using circles to send lessons documents to his students.
  • A person that was excited because he joined a public conversation about Go and in less than 24 hours he was able to build a whole community of passionate people like him. “Brilliant!”.
  • “It’s something I wanted since Facebook!”
  • A person thanked Google+ because working with circles made him think about his relationships and the value he puts in them.
  • “No spam, no mobbing, no stalking. Heaven.”
  • A person got back in touch with a long time lost friend.
  • “Strongest FOAF feature EVER!”
  • “I’m worried to send the wrong message to the wrong circle”
  • “Better conversation quality than Facebook, but a little more overwhelming than Twitter”
That’s all! I hope it’s interesting and if you think so, just go ahead and share it, thanks! :)