How I Set Up My Circles in Google Plus

by Matt Stratton on July 7, 2011

I’ve been playing around with Google Plus for about a week now. One of the major features of the product is the concept of “Circles”, which is similar (in a way) to Facebook “Friends Lists”. Here’s an overview of my personal Circle strategy.

What are Circles, anyway?

In a nutshell, a Circle is a group of Google Plus users. Circles serve primarily as a security boundary – when posting content to Plus, you can choose to only share it with certain Circles. I also have been experimenting with using Circles as a publishing boundary as well.

My Circles

The first thing I did was remove all of the “default” Circles (“Friends”, “Family”, “Acquaintances”, “Following”, etc). The reason for this is simple – your Circles are ordered alphabetically, however, the default ones always sort to the top. I wanted to be able to control the sorting, so I removed all of the defaults and replaced them with my own.

Here is a screenshot of my Circles:


Notice that there are basically three master groups – Family, Friends, and Work. Each of them contain sub-Circles (for example, “Work: Vendors” is a sub-Circle of “Work”, but everyone in any Work: * Circle is in the “Work: All” Circle). Creating the master Circles is a manual effort – you cannot (at this time) nest Circles, but I am doing it by hand.

Special Circles

Outside of the obvious groupings, you’ll notice two other Circles – “Famous People” and “Purgatory”.

Famous People

This is the Circle I created for folks like Gina Trapani or Robert Scoble – consider it similar to the “Following” default Circle. The idea here is to be able to easily look at those posts in a different stream than my more “personal” stream. It also makes it easier to find the “noisy” posters and remove them if needed.


I don’t know about you, but I am getting a lot of “adds” from people I don’t actually know…and even if I don’t know them, I have no idea if they are going to be interesting or not. When someone I don’t know adds me to one of their Circles (or I come across them in another section of Plus), I add them to this Circle. Once I have seen the content they post and determine that they are interesting, I move them into the appropriate other Circle. And if they turn out to be obnoxious, I just remove them altogether.

Circles for Publishing

Some of my Circles don’t seem to make sense from a privacy perspective – for example, why would I want to post something that only my blogging friends could see? For me, those Circles aren’t so much to keep other people out, but it’s from a perspective of controlling my publishing stream – my family, for example, won’t care when I post links to an article about a new version of the Thesis framework, but my blogger friends will. So those posts only get shared with the Friends: Bloggers Circle. It’s not to keep my family from seeing the posts, but to keep them from HAVING to see the posts. Make sense?

One More Tip

I highly recommend moving people from your Gmail contacts into appropriate Circles, even if they aren’t on Plus yet. That way, when they DO sign up with Plus, they will already be Circled. This wasn’t a big deal for me last week, but in the past few days, with lots more folks joining up, it was really nice to not have to manage them into the appropriate Circle at that time.

What about YOU? What tips and tricks have you come up with for managing your Circles? How are you using Circles to control your sharing on Plus? Let me know in the comments! And if you ARE a Plus user, don’t forget to check my out at

  • Tracy M.

    You know this means that there are 209 people out there wondering whether or not they are amongst your 27 “not trusted” friends!

    • mattstratton

      *tents fingers*


    • Joel B

      That’s the brilliance of Circles (and what separates them from Facebook’s Groups) – they have no way of knowing.

  • Katie

    I love that purgatory idea, Matt!

    • mattstratton

      Thanks! I was quite proud of myself for thinking of it. And it’s been working very well so far.

      • Leonardo Ruppenthal

        Brilliant – Dante would be proud!

      • Sasson Mansoori

        It’s a great idea, but what’s the difference between that and your incoming? I thought that was what that section is for?

        • mattstratton

          Good point. As described, the “Purgatory” Circle is very similar to Incoming…although I’ve found that I also use it when I get a Suggestion to add someone, and I’m not quite sure they are going to pass muster.

          It also allows me to put someone in a Circle for “publishing” reasons, but not necessarily have to deal with them for “reading” reasons. My methodology has changed slightly since I wrote this post as well, so I need to update it to include my “reading” Circles :)

  • James Seymour

    Is there an easy way to manage who adds you to their circles?  I have been added by a few people I don’t know, without my permission of course since you can’t control it, and just wondering how to remove myself from their circles, or can you?

    • mattstratton

      There’s really no way, currently, to keep people from adding you to their Circles. However, I don’t think it’s a big deal for people to add me – unless they are in any of MY Circles, they won’t see anything I post unless I explicitly share it as “public”. 

      • Jo Nobrega

        Not only I’ve been added to a circle I don’t want to be in, but someone actually SHARED this circle with his contacts… can I undo this? can I at least prevent that from happening in the future, or setting google+ to ask me permission before someone shares my contact or info? Thanks

  • Stb Hrnndz

    It is a great idea all together but I really don’t see myself having such a blast of circles, I would prefer though if there were a way to create circles inside a circle, so all the family circles you did there go into a proper single circle… when going to the stream, you hit family stream and all the sub circles appear below that main circle like a drop down list, hitting it again, would put it back to the main circle…

    Like this

    O Family (112) <<<< Mass amount of content they have all submitted
    Family Fajardo (60) <<<< Content submitted by them
    Family Hernandez (50)
    Family Fajardo Hernandez (2)

    O Friends (54)
    Closer Friends (20
    Trusted… (10)
    Childhood Friends (15)
    College Friends (9)

    O Fallowing (3000)
    Sports (300)
    Tech (1675)
    Photographers. (115)
    Music (1000)

    In resume guys, this would quite the revolution all toguether, In fact I think if google doesn't do this, I would be a very very sad panda, since im such a sucker for organization, please take it a level further, I hope they do so, people should feedback my idea, what do you think?

    • BugMeNot

      Yes. And circles within a circle should be called “arcs” and be displayed on the Circles page as a colored section within the circle, i.e. a pie chart.

    • mattstratton

      I totally agree. Nested Circles are what I am really hoping for. My approach here is simply my attempt to replicated “nesting” without having actual nesting..for now :)

    • music2myear

      I was just thinking that sub-circles would be great. For me, I’m lucky enough that members of Family are also members of Friends, so why should I have to move them each to both seperately? And with work, there are different companies and different positions I can easily see myself wanted to send different things to. Googled “google plus sub circles and your article came up. I’d add just one capability to sub-circles, the ability to exclude members of a particular sub-circle from it’s super-circle, or “arc” as someone mentioned below, on an individual basis.

    • thadude

      yo dawg i heard you like circles so i circled circles with circles

  • Technology Muddle

    excellent article on Managing your Google Circles  #googleplus

  • Darlyn Rodriguez

    Thanks for this!  I just got back from the honeymoon and had so many Circle adds and was trying to figure out how to logically organize everything.  So now I’ll just copy you – including the Purgatory category!!

  • Kiwi

    I’m waiting / looking for a exclude from notification feature. eg. Invite my family to a surprise party for my sister (in the family circle) but not notify her.
    That would be most handy.

  • Gino

    Can I ask do you need a gmail account to set up google circles ?

  • Cm

    hah you did the EXACT same thing i did including naming your purgatory circle purgatory you sir are a G+ rock star

  • Gregory Allan

    So am I understanding correctly that if I follow someone and add them to a circle called, for example *programmers* then publish only to that circle and then later that person follows me back. Will they see the content published to *programmers* because I previously added them to that circle _before_ they followed me?

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  • Junekimber

    I am a reluctant senior (77) who is absolutely fed up with constant changes to the format. Having to read all about these changes is time consuming, and boring, to someone who is forced to use the computer, to keep abreast of the times.

    Sending photos was easy and familiar. Now, there are circles to contend with which is yet another intelligence test. Trying to forward photos is an absolute chore, lately. I am really fed up !. Why change the format, to include more options, that are of no interest to most seniors. I would not dream of banking, via the computer.

    It is time some bright beauty devised a simple programme, especially for seniors. We do not have the patience, or time, to be introduced to so many unnessary options. Trying to  keep solving problems, that come naturally to the younger generation, is a real pain in the brain !. The frustration and stress are something we do not need, getting closer to the end of one’s days. There is not always physical help at hand, and reading instructions is not helpful at all !. JLK –  Senior dunce !.

  • Name-Not important

    Ok, so i have a question…. If someone adds me to their circles, is there any way i can block them from seeing my profile pics and personal information? I mean- there could be some crazy stalkers out there!

  • Y8

    i want addd more friend

  • Juegos Friv

    Your posts is excellent and includes a lot of useful information. Your awareness relating to this subject are interesting, profound as well as other. To be certain with numerous these elements. Thanks.

  • Pingback: How to: Nesting Circles in Google Plus #computers #answer #solution | InfoBot()

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