There is a subtle difference in the way that friends in Facebook and relationships in Google+ are defined. There has been a lot of commentary over the last week surrounding the usefulness of circles: “Which is the best route to choose?”,”Are groups better?”, “Should circles be private or public?”, etc. I am not going to comment on their usefulness at this stage, because personally for me, the way I approach software is: the gods giveth, early adopters carve and the rest of us follow. Which basically means that the early, smart people will find creative ways of using a feature or technology, sometimes, beyond what the original designer originally envisioned – and once people lead the way, others follow suit and start to use the service as well.
What I do want to pick up on is the following: In Facebook, friends are two-way relationships (this applies for LinkedIn as well). You send somebody a request, and unless they validate (i.e. accept) your request to become a friend (join the link) never gets formed. Twitter however employs the alternative method, which is: “Who do I follow?”, and then the by product of this is “Who follows me?”. So effectively you get two classes of links, people you follow and people who follow you. These two groups can be entirely different, usually however there is an overlap so that some people that you follow, follow you; but of course people you follow can choose not to follow you. This is the point.
Circles in Google+ is just like this relationship in Twitter (albeit hidden behind these circle categorisations). You can choose people to be in your circles, you get to pick them at will, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in theirs or that they choose you back.
In Google+ association (membership in a circle) is a 1-way relationship.
What this means of course is that you get the ‘followed’ and the ‘followers’, but since in Google you could create a Circle called ‘enemies’, this becomes more like: the associated and the associators. Or put another way, having somebody in your circle in Google doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than “I have associated this person with a category (aka Circle)”. Everybody else therefore is a person that I do not associate with (or rather, I haven’t specifically chosen to associate with yet on Google+).
This is an interesting yet subtle difference to 2 way social networks, something that a lot of people during all of the quibble about whether people like Google+’s circles or not, or find them useful, have failed to pick up on.