I can’t help myself to think of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle when considering the new Google+ system and how it organizes people into circles. The circle, properly constructed, is a “karass”, the people who you are following around and around. The pivot of the karass is a “wampeter”, the thing which draws you together – “a tree, a rock, an animal, an idea, a book, a melody, the Holy Grail”.
I go back to Seb Paquet’s essay on ridiculously easy group formation as a sense for how the Internet used to be if you wanted to start a collective enterprise. Most of the tasks at that time were relatively heavyweight, in that you had to begin something and set up the software infrastructure before you started to use it. Now, with most social networks, group formation is as easy as settling on a name for what you are doing, making that name prominent within your communications (e.g. using it as a hash tag), and then just doing it.
If you look at Google+ for pivots, you find people, but not ideas. Energy clusters around individual activity, and though it’s possible to nominally describe a circle of people as being interested in football or ice hockey, you can’t guarantee that those people will reciprocate by only writing about football or ice hockey. One thing you do all have in common, though is Google+ – and thus the wampeter that draws you all in is the system itself.
Following Vonnegut again there are two wampeters for each karass, one waxing, one waning. Fortunately we do have the other one named here already; an animal. Specifically a cat.