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What's the most frequent mental model? Do people use circles to:

  • categorize people ("friends", "collegues", "family"?

or to

  • define interests ("bicycle", "cooking", "politics")?

The question is relevant to assess if Google+ is an effective Interest Matching System or not. Google+ tutorial videos ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocPeAdpe_A8 ) suggest both ways.

Do you know of studies or do you have heuristic evidence of some trend?

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You should rephrase "How do people use..." into "Is there any research on...". That is what you are looking for, and in the UX.SE context it looks a bit better. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Jul 22 '12 at 12:26
    
I do both myself, and suspect both are very common. I think the main difference is your friends go into categories, and your "followings" go into categories. Not familiar with any numbers though –  Ben Brocka Jul 22 '12 at 13:37
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2 Answers

I think this paper may give you the answers you are looking for:

http://research.google.com/pubs/pub37843.html Talking in Circles: Selective Sharing in Google+

Abstract: Online social networks have become indispensable tools for information sharing, but existing ‘all-or-nothing’ models for sharing have made it difficult for users to target information to specific parts of their networks. In this paper, we study Google+, which enables users to selectively share content with specific ‘Circles’ of people. Through a combination of log analysis with surveys and interviews, we investigate how active users organize and select audiences for shared content. We find that these users frequently engaged in selective sharing, creating circles to manage content across particular life facets, ties of varying strength, and interest-based groups. Motivations to share spanned personal and informational reasons, and users frequently weighed ‘limiting’ factors (e.g. privacy, relevance, and social norms) against the desire to reach a large audience. Our work identifies implications for the design of selective sharing mechanisms in social networks.

For a company as data-focussed as Google, it would be amazing if they hadn't already analysed this data down to wring as much value as possible out of it!

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I can't answer for how Google would like you to use Circles, but what I can tell you is how I use circles.

I have circles for friends, colleagues, colleagues by company (as a contractor I move around quite a bit), people I know purely via G+, other UX people, other UI people, other Developers and interests such as Photography, Mountain Biking and Travel.

The great thing about the way in which circles work is that you don't have to just send things to all or one. If I have something to post relating to UX I can send it to all colleagues past and present, UI people, UX people and Web people. If I have something about photography I can decide whether only other photographers would want to hear about it or if it's something I should post publicly to be enjoyed by all.

Like I said that's just me, and how I use them. If this [personal opinion] isn't the kind of thing you want to know maybe rephrase the question as mentioned in the comments! :)

TJH

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