Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Understanding the Integration Between Stream & Circles

Following a webinar presentation on Google+ held yesterday, I've received quite a few emails and have noticed that many — even some existing Google+ users — didn't quite understand the relationship and integration between Circles and the Stream of content which appears on your Google+ home page. I thought I'd take a few minutes to try and explain this for the benefit of those who have sent emails asking, especially since I promised several that I'd do so via this blog within 24 hours.

New Google+ Users
When you first establish your account on Google+, your home page will default to a Welcome page. You'll be encouraged to establish Circles and to find people to put in your circles. Once you begin that process, your content Stream on the home page will automatically begin populating with comments of all types. Some will be short text-only posts (like something you might see from Twitter) and others may be more in-depth postings with images, embedded video or links to another site attached. There is a close relationship that exists between the Circles you establish and the content Stream.

Underwater Basket Weaving
While preparing for the webinar this past weekend, I did a few sample searches from the Sparks page in Google+. Since many of my contacts (friends, family, and business associates alike) have an overlap in some way with my interest in family history research, I wanted to use a completely unrelated example. I'm not sure why, but after a brief pause, I typed the three words underwater basket weaving — thinking this was just so obscure, but to my surprise, there were already a few postings on Google+ matching this query.

Let's assume for a moment that I had a dozen or so contacts that shared my interest in this hobby (craft? sport? profession?). I could create a Circle named U-B-W or Baskets or any other name I might want to give to the group. Over time I could continue to manage the members of this Circle, even including those without a Google+ account by simply noting their email address. Later, when I had something interesting to share — perhaps a notice about an upcoming event, I could Share a post and specify it is to be shared specifically with members of this particular Circle of friends. After all, why would my genealogy friends or family members or co-workers want to hear about this upcoming event about underwater basket weaving?

Now, here comes the simple, but powerful integration of Circles and the Stream of content that is central to your use of Google+. Tomorrow or the next day or at any time thereafter, you sign in to your Google+ account and view your home page. Your Stream is populated by content — most recently posted items and their corresponding comments appear at top with a time stamp, and the further down the list you look, the older the posts get.

Rather than scroll through all the postings from your entire collection of family members, friends, business and social contacts, you can look to the left navigation bar for the Stream header and the corresponding list which appears immediately below. You should recognize the names because they are your Circles listed in the same priority order as your Circles appear when you manage your Circles and contacts as accessed through the Circles icon at the top of your page.

Look at the list, find the Baskets or U-B-W or whatever name you gave to this group and with just one click, you will quickly filter all the posts in your Stream to only those shared by people who are placed in the corresponding Circle.

So, while the header of that column is labeled Stream, the individual text elements which appear below are text links corresponding to your Circles.

The better job you do at setting up and maintaining your Circles and the contacts within, the more effective this filtering capability will be for you. I hope that helps explain this for those who sent me email. Please share your follow-up comments or questions as comments to this post so that we can all benefit from the discussion on this blog.

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