A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The Genius of Google+ Circles

Like many, I’ve spent the past few weeks playing around with the new social network Google+.  The most interesting aspect of Google+ is Circles, the tool for organizing contacts (social graph) on the network.  Here’s a quick video overview:

So why does Circles matter?  It differentiates Google+ from Twitter and Facebook.

On Facebook, to have a relationship with someone you both have to opt in.  You have to become “friends”.  Due to this restriction, most interactions on Facebook are private.

On Twitter, you follow people and people follow you.  While there are ways to figure out if someone reciprocates your follow, it isn’t critical to the use of the service.  The primary point of Twitter is to find interesting people to follow.  The service is primarily public.

With Circles, Google+ has sort of split the difference between Facebook (private) and Twitter (public).  They have left it to users to decide how they want to use the service.

When you decide to add a contact on Google+, you are automatically asked to put the contact in a circle.  By default, Google has a a few predefined circles.  Some of the predefined circles imply intimacy (Family, Friends), while others imply only loose connections (Following, Acquaintance).  You can also create custom circles.

When posting an update, you decide which of your circles to share information with.   And that’s it.

This is a really elegant solution for a number of reasons:

  • Adding someone to a circle is less of a commitment than adding someone as a friend on Facebook. Circles just doesn’t have the drama associated with Facebook “friendships”.  At the same time, the inclusion by default of circles such as Family and Friends makes it possible for adding someone to to be more of a commitment than simply following someone on Twitter.
  • Circles lets you define your relationship with someone in private. While you are notified when you are added to a circle by another user, you have no idea which particularly circle you are included in.  So someone that has added me to a circle called “BFF” will never know if I’ve only added them to a general circle called ‘Following”.  While this sort of grouping is possible to do in Facebook, it is not nearly as fundamental to the experience as it is with Google+.
  • Circles forces you to categorize contacts. To add a contact, you have to put them into a circle.  You have to make a choice. This requirement forces you to think through how you want to categorize your contacts, which ultimately makes you think through how you want to use the service.

As a result of all of this, Circles allows people to use the service publicly, privately or through some hybrid model determined by the user.  Scoble can use the service to amass 40,000+ followers in a week while at the same time my college buddy can use it to post photos from his wedding only viewable to three people.

The sharing flexibility of Google+ allows the service to fill a nice little void between Twitter (public) and Facebook (private). If Google+ succeeds, I think it will largely be because of the elegance and flexibility of Circles.

What do you think?

5 Great Social Fundraising Platforms

Social fundraising is on the rise and these 5 sites are a great place to get your feet wet:

crowdrise1. Crowdrise

About: “Crowdrise is about giving back, raising tons of money for charity and having the most fun in the world while doing it. Crowdrise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Pricing: Free accounts with no monthly charge and 5% + $2.50 transaction fee

stayclassy2. Stay Classy

About: “StayClassy is an on-demand social fundraising solution for Nonprofit organizations. Our web-based platform allows Nonprofits to receive online donations, organize fundraising events & campaigns, manage donors across social media, and access our real-time reporting and analytics engine. ”

Pricing: Freemium accounts have no monthly charge and 4% + $0.99 per donation ticket

firstgiving3. First Giving

About: “We partner with nonprofit organizations to allow them to plan, execute, and measure successful online fundraising campaigns. For individual fundraisers, we aim to make the process simple, effective, and even fun! Above all, we want nonprofit and fundraisers alike to meet and exceed their goals of raising money for important causes, building awareness, and expanding the world of giving.”

Pricing: No monthly charge, 5% First Giving fee and 2.5% transaction fee

razoo4. Razoo

About: “Razoo is a movement of people who want to make generosity a part of everyday life. Generosity is win-win. Not only does it make the world a better place, it also makes us happy and fulfilled – especially when we give to the people and causes we care about most.”

Pricing: No monthly fees and a flat 2.9% charge per transaction


5. Causes

About: “Causes is the world’s largest platform for activism and philanthropy. We empower individuals to create grassroots communities called “causes” that take action on behalf of a specific issue or nonprofit organization. Since our founding in 2007, Causes has brought together”

Pricing: No monthly fees and a flat 4.75% charge per transaction through Network for Good

Should I vote for a friend while divulging my personal information?

Earlier this week, I got a mass e-mail from a friend asking all of us to vote for one of her food blog recipes (which looks delicious, by the way) in a competition.  In the past, I have gladly voted for her blog and recipes, but in those cases, I did not have to add an app to my Facebook account or provide any personal information.  I would have gladly done so now, but voting required working through a Facebook app.

In the past, I have indicated that Facebook app developers can access demographic information; that is what helps make these apps and social networks so valuable.  However, is it worth divulging my personal information to some app developer to help my friend win a poll or contest?  In this case, I am not voting. 

While her friendship and her hobby that brings her much happiness are important to me, they are not worth more than safeguarding my personal information.  If her invite was for a cause that I cared about and for a trustworthy organization that did a lot of good, I might agree to add the app to my account so that I could participate.

I would not mind giving my name, e-mail address, and similar information to many organizations.  That is why it is important for such organizations to transparently collect such information even when it is through polls and contests, and this can help them explain their mission and value.

Having said that, I just don’t divulge my information to anyone – even if a friend issues such a request.

Feel free to chime in the comments about when you are willing to divulge your personal information online and when you are not.

An Army of Many: Social Media and the Armed Forces

blog_army_socialmedia Social media is a powerful tool that often allows users to spread ideas and help make the world a better place. But what about the medium’s power to affect national (or personal) security? The US Department of the Army recently released a handbook that provides helpful hints and warnings about the dangers of social media to employees and soldiers. The 39 page document aims to reach the newcomers to social media as well as the tech-savvy .

From the operational security standpoint, this sort of guide makes perfect sense. When a 19 year old soldier has grown up with the internet and has been sharing facets if his or her life online for over a decade, it becomes important to set slight boundaries on what information should and should not be shared during wartime. The guide focuses on helping users of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and blogging software be better aware of the data that they are putting online; as this information may compromise things like unit location and personal safety while deployed.

Some tips from the document include:

  • Be careful with geotagging pictures on Flickr or Picassa
  • Do not reveal sensitive personal information about yourself on social networking profiles
  • Talk to your family and make sure that they also follow good operational security online
  • Do not violate copyright or trademark

The US Army is not forbidding free speech, nor is it prohibiting its soldiers from using social media to connect with their friends and family across the globe. Rather – the Department of the Army is educating against accidental information leakage (like GPS coordinates or personal information) and making sure everyone is keeping up with good operational security practices.

To read the entire document go go –


What do you think of the US Army 2011 Social media guidelines?

Facebook is NOT big in Japan

In the U.S. 60% of Internet users have Facebook accounts.  In Japan, only 2% of Internet users have Facebook accounts and services like Mixi, Gree and Mobage-town are 10 times as big.  According to a recent New York Times article, one of the primary reasons Facebook has failed to catch on in Japan is its insistence that people use real names when signing up for accounts.  Japanese Internet users fiercely guard their privacy, and, according to the article, even popular bloggers prefer to use nicknames or pseudonyms when socializing on the web.  It is interesting that even as technology makes the world a little smaller every day, there are still some very fundamental differences in how people choose to use the tools we now have access to.  The full article is worth a read