Google+'s Volume Slider & How Circles Were Meant To Work

"There is a reason for this madness and that is the waterfall." - Roger Steen

The New Volume Slider
Google+ is rolling out a volume slider to better control your main stream. I discovered it by accident, when checking out page management features. I'm not positive, but I think it's a roll out because the circles of the page had the volume slider and my personal circles don't have it yet. Of course, I still don't have that fancy new navigation bar either....

I later found a complete explanation on gplustuts which turns out to be a very informative site with a rather unfortunate name (as if there isn't I'm sure there will soon be a site called gplusluts or gplussluts). For a thorough understanding of the volume slider thing, check out the linked article.

Basically, the volume slider works like this:
You select a percentage of posts from each of your circles that make it to your main stream.

How, exactly, it picks and chooses which posts from that circle make the percentage cut isn't particularly clear to me (though I didn't watch the video). If you give a circle 5%, it may show you 5% of the posts from each poster in that circle in your mainstream - or it may just put every 20th post from that circle in your stream.

Main Stream Waterfalls
This, undoubtedly, is to help people like me. My main stream is like a waterfall. You may have shared a fabulous post I would have loved to have seen - but if I wasn't watching my stream within the hour or so you posted it, by the time I look at my stream again your post will probably be long gone.

I recently conducted an Experiment to get a rough idea of whether a single post was reaching enough of the people who have circled me, or if I'd have to share multiple times to get the word out about something I thought was important.

The results were not encouraging. True, it's only been four days, but I only received 15/2499 people indicating they actually saw the post. That's a little less than 0.6%. Maybe (being generous) another 100 people saw the experiment post and didn't participate - but that's still a very low number. That number leads me to think I'm probably not the only one with a waterfall stream.

However, I see the new volume-slider as a band-aid solution for a major surgery problem. Circles don't accomplish what they were designed to accomplish - quality control of the content you want to see and share. I've gone into detail about how circles fail and offered up a possible solution here.

How Circles were meant to work
Tonight though, I finally realized how google+'s designers thought circles would work, and how they meant for me to use them. This sort of thing is probably in a google+ beginner's guide somewhere, but I prefer to fumble around and figure it out for myself (helps me see problems new users might have if they don't look up a beginner's guide).

The part that threw me off is that circles were designed such that they expected you to have the same person in multiple circles. You find people with similar interests, say fishing and baseball, then put those people into circles with that name. When you post something about fishing, you share it with your fishing circle. When you post something about baseball, you share it with your baseball circle. If a fellow liked both fishing and baseball, you'd put him in both circles so he'd see both flavors of your posting.

I think they just failed to realize how the open-network would create demands so much more different than the close-network people were used to on facebook. This circle thing would work if users only circled a couple hundred others - but with circle-sharing it's not unusual to get 200-300 new people to sort in one fell swoop. For those of us with jobs, there isn't really enough time lying around to sort 200 people into interest groups. This is especially true if they don't list their interests in their profile.

I've seen several plussers post their interests and request that the people that have them circled let them know what content they want to see. With waterfall streams and less than 10% of the people you share with actually seeing such a post - that isn't going to accomplish much sorting.

Circles COULD work that way in theory - but for them to work that way in reality, it requires the impossible: Everyone would have to play along.

What's worse, if everyone did play along there would be no public posts, which would make the search google+ at the top a lot less useful.

The volume slider is evidence that the designers of google+ realize waterfall streams are a problem. My post tonight was actually going to be an alternative solution with a similar goal - but the best fix will be a circle overhaul at best and the introduction of interest circles at least. Unless there's something I haven't figure out yet at least....

Do you use circles differently? Does using circles in the above way work well enough for you? Is your stream a waterfall and will the volume slider help?