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Google+ Circles: A contact management tool, not a new social network!

In the design community, Google+ Circles is producing the most glare and getting a tremendous amount of attention for its interaction design. These days, it’s nearly impossible to read a tweet or blog post without stumbling across a mention of it.

I’ll admit it, as a designer, I’m strongly attracted to shiny new things.

In the design community, Google+ Circles is producing the most glare and getting a tremendous amount of attention for its interaction design. These days, it’s nearly impossible to read a tweet or blog post without stumbling across a mention of it. Some bloggers are even heralding the Cirlces design approach as “revolutionary” or “radical”, such as Marshall Kirkpatrick’s titled article “Google Circles, Google's Radical New Social Network, Launches Today”.

Navigating the social hype, I spent the past few days researching and taking a close look at Google+ Circles. Here is my take, from a designer’s perspective.

First, let’s be honest, Google+ Circles is not a “new social network”. It is a contact management tool.

In fact, the “circle” metaphor is merely a tool to build and manage what Google calls a Contact List, just as we have always done with email groups.

Using a circle for grouping contacts for “socializing” is, at first glance, a perfect choice. The UI design approach is strong and elegant, but the strength of the visual metaphor vanishes after the contact management task is done. The user experience created by the circle metaphor does not extend further into this product, or into the greater Google. Once you have created your circles, you are back into traditional Google UI mechanisms, which lack the usability and elegance the circle metaphor afforded.

The gamification aspects of Circles is interesting. When you add a contact to a circle the feedback loop presents a “+1” icon that rises or floats out of the circle, just like the coins in Super Mario Brothers. The way the photos behave around the dial is reminiscent of slot machine animations. I believe these game mechanics will contribute greatly to driving adoption and user engagement.

So is the Circle metaphor strong enough to drive and sustain widespread user adoption?

I’ll explore that further in my next post.

Dave Humphrey

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