While it’s still very early in the process for Google+, already I’m see­ing things they are doing that I wish Face­book did. The pri­mary dif­fer­ence for me is the Cir­cles com­po­nent of Google+. From the description:

Google+ Cir­cles helps you orga­nize every­one accord­ing to your real-life social connections–say, ‘fam­ily,’ ‘work friends,’ ‘music bud­dies,’ and ‘alumni’. Then, you can share rel­e­vant con­tent with the right peo­ple, and fol­low con­tent posted by peo­ple you find interesting.

Part of the prob­lem I have with Face­book is how it treats all my “friends” as the same. I’m either friends with you or I’m not accord­ing to Face­book and frankly, that’s not a very sub­tle dis­tinc­tion when it comes to how I want to inter­act with peo­ple online. This causes me to be very cau­tious with accept­ing requests on Face­book. Many times, I either have to choose to ignore some­one I’m not that inter­ested in or accept their request and then qui­etly click the X but­ton when it turns out I’m just not that inter­ested in what they have to say. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to accept all requests. I’d just like to have some con­trol over what I read and share beyond the con­cept of “Every­one is my friend” which they clearly aren’t.

Google+ fixes this with Cir­cles, the con­cept being that your social cir­cle is actu­ally made up of lots of lit­tle cir­cles, some of which over­lap, super­sede or ignore com­pletely other cir­cles. This is a more accu­rate por­trayal of what goes on in the real world. This may of course be a solu­tion dreamed up by engi­neer­ing nerds and intro­verts look­ing for a prob­lem to solve. I know that many of the peo­ple I’ve run into on Face­book have so many friends, they can’t pos­si­bly use FB in any mean­ing­ful way to keep up with peo­ple unless they spend entirely too much time there. Wait, nevermind.

Still, when some­one has 1000 friends on Face­book, it’s off putting in a vari­ety of ways to me. For one, chances are they use Face­book as more of a giant online Rolodex, a place where any­one and every­one they have ever encoun­tered can be grouped in one place for easy track­ing. That’s fine except that in order for me to be in your Rolodex, you have to be in mine as well unless I specif­i­cally do some­thing to pre­tend like you aren’t there. Not par­tic­u­larly opti­mal. Not to men­tion, if you have 1000 friends on Face­book, the like­li­hood that you actu­ally pay atten­tion in any mean­ing­ful way to what I put on Face­book is rapidly approach­ing zero and since this is all about me, why would I want that?

With Google+ Cir­cles, a lot of those issues van­ish. If I accept a request from some­one with 1000 friends, I can put them in my “Extro­verts are insane” Cir­cle, choose to share almost noth­ing with them and view almost noth­ing and be done with it. I’m in their Rolodex, they are in mine, but that’s the limit of it and no one has to get their feel­ings hurt. They don’t have to lis­ten to me say how much Face­book sucks (not that they were pay­ing any atten­tion any­way) and I don’t have to lis­ten to what­ever it is they say on FB. Everyone’s a winner.

The abil­ity to put peo­ple in loosely orga­nized groups is a key com­po­nent of evo­lu­tion­ary biol­ogy. It’s impor­tant that we are able to know who we can count on, who to share infor­ma­tion about drunken orgies with, etc. The evo­lu­tion of social media from the begin­nings in AOL chat rooms to Google+ Cir­cles is an evo­lu­tion towards bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion online of the rela­tion­ships we actu­ally have in daily life. I don’t know what the long term chances are for this lat­est project of Google’s but I per­son­ally am root­ing for their success.