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How a Google+ gap keeps me on Facebook

Google+ takes big strides managing communications for different audiences, but it still falls short when handling dual personal and professional identities.

I've been using Google+ a lot the last few days, and I like it--especially the circles idea that lets me put people I might want to address into specific groups.

Circles are a lot more nuanced than the all-or-nothing broadcast technology I'm used to with Facebook and Twitter. But unless Google figures a way to fix one particular shortcoming, circles don't fix a problem I've had for years: the social networking tension between personal and professional use.

Here it is, in brief: I want to offer public commentary on the tech world through Google+, but I don't want my ceaseless techno-talk to clog friends' and family's Google+ streams.

It was for this reason that last year I unplugged my Twitter stream from Facebook and this year set up my separate professional Facebook page.

I'm willing to cut Google, Twitter, and everybody else with an online service some slack here. It's genuinely hard to create a product that can withstand the duality of people's different roles. Most of us have grown accustomed to having separate home and work e-mail addresses, for example. Facebook offers an ability to run linked personal and professional personas.

I'd hoped that Google, which explicitly boasts about Google+'s ability to handle social networking with both your boss and your family, would have handled the situation better. So far I think it's got the best start, at least, with circles.

Circles let me specify a certain audience to receive a message, which is great for a targeted note to coworkers, close friends, or people who live nearby. But my targeted messages--about my weekend family trip, say--are very different than my public messages about subjects such as Web browsers.

The only sensible way to handle the work-related messages is to post them publicly. I want people to read them, after all, and I certainly don't have time to manage some constantly expanding circle of people I presumed would be interested.

If they're public messages, though, I would be burdening my family and friends with the controversy of WebGL security when all they wanted to hear about was the adventure with the inebriated hooligan in Dover.

I don't presume that my Google+ needs represent how most people would use the service. But I do believe there are many in my shoes--anybody with a business to promote, for example, whether that's a wedding photographer or freelance programmer or high-profile technology executive.

Here's an interesting illustration of the professional-personal situation. Bradley Horowitz, the Google vice president in charge of Google+ and other social and communications products, just announced his engagement publicly on Google+. Google+ makes it easy to keep that sort of post more private if desired, but it lacks an inverse mechanism that a fiancee might want, a way to filter out her fiance's public, professional comments and just get the personal.

Google+ circles

One obvious solution to this plight involves the Venn diagram approach to circles--a thought that's occurred to me and several others. Simon Phipps would like nested circles, so he could have a group that's a subset of another. Another handy possibility would be the union of two sets--family members in the local neighborhood, for example. But the one that would solve my biggest problem would be an exclusion: I'd like a message to be sent to all those people who follow me except my non-nerdy friends and family.

The post would still be visible on the Web; Google's servers would just subtract one circle during the distribution process. A complication arises when a person is in two conflicting circles, one to which I'm distributing content and one from which I'm excluding content; in that case perhaps it would be best to distribute it.

Of course, the post would still be public, so it would be visible on my posts page. For a friend coming to check on the Web what I've said recently, but who doesn't want the techno-talk, that's a problem. Perhaps Google could offer us Google+ stream option to show only those posts that were directly shared with us--in effect a subscription to a more private version of my Google+ self.

Maybe I just need to be patient. Google+ team members Yonatan Zunger and Trey Harris suggest I should be, that many requested features are in the pipeline. Surely I'm not the first to think of this, and certainly Google+ isn't in its final form.

Or maybe I need an attitude adjustment. Itamar Novick of Morgenthaler Ventures argues that the already blurry line between personal and professional life is disappearing, and he has a point. For now, though, I still think there's a role for the line. I don't want to bare all, WikiLeaks-style, to my professional contacts, and I don't want to inundate my mom with news of a JavaScript-based PDF reader being built into Firefox. And there are other roles that often need partitioning: if you're a teacher, it's probably not appropriate to share your every adult thought with young students.

Thus, for now, Facebook suits my needs better.

The main reason I'm not going to dump Facebook is because that's where most of my online friends are now. But until Google finds a better way of handling circles, I'll mostly only be using Google+ for work purposes.