Yalim's Lodge

Google, Eric Berne circled friends first

I have two points to make in this blog post:

Point 1: Eric Berne’s work is relevant to the discussion of grouping friends in social networks.

He is the creator of transactional analysis for crying out loud. This discussion has its scientific justifications in his work yet nobody seems to be referencing it. It is called the six ways of structuring time and everyone on earth falls into one of the six categories depending on how we spend time with them.

To summarize the Wikipedia entry I linked to, there are six ways of structuring time:


Basically you don’t know the girl.

You say hi to the girl on the way to the restroom but that’s about it.

You are at a dinner party and exchange vaguely interesting stories with the girl while sipping your wine.

You work with the girl at the same office or play softball every weekend.

You and the girl have a relationship similar to the one between Maddie Hayes and David Addison from Moonlighting. Only much much less interesting.

You are very good friends or happily in love. You give personal and genuine attention to each other with no obvious reason to do so.

So there you have it. These are your groups of friends. This is how close you are to everyone you know or don’t know. Every Google Circle falls under one of these groups, mostly under 3 and 4, I suspect.

Point 2: No one really cares about grouping of friends that much.

The problem is that unless you are a psychologist, a professional who wants to use social media to promote something or a software engineer with way too much time you don’t care. The world does not consist of data modelers who want to structure their friends in groups. No normal user cares that much about Facebook, Google or Twitter.

If a piece of software does the structuring automatically, oh well, I guess some people might find a use for it. (Katango takes a crack at this.) A small percentage of people still value privacy way more than the average person and they make a big deal out of it. But that’s it. Google Circles, Katango or whatever don’t address a pain point for the majority.

The next innovation in social networks will not come from a better structuring of social relationships. Anything better than what we already have, provides only marginal benefits.

Yalım K. Gerger


I’d much rather readers comment here in the blog post itself so that every reader can benefit from their input. However, I can’t overlook the discussion going on at the Hacker News site about this blog post. So here it is for your reading pleasure.

  • Ileana B

    I think circles make sense if you have more interests. I don’t want to lose my audience with the IT people if I post a lot about healthcare stuff.

    Of course Google+’s success just as any other social networking site’s has more to do with how many of your friends are active there than with its benefits.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Ileana, you won’t lose us if you post on Healthcare. We will just ignore the post about health care and go about our day. Besides, the fact that you use Circles and group your friends only proves my point because you are a software developer and therefore prone to overengineer irrelevant details of life. :-)

  • Bob Miller

    Can you define Games without reference to a TV show? Neither IMDB nor Wikipedia gave me any real idea what those characters’ relationship was.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Sure. Let me try another reference before I copy&paste a game from Wikipedia. The relationship between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons is a tribute to games. The entire movie/novel is about the game the two are playing.

    OK. Here is the Wikipedia snippet from the page I linked to in the article: (The White and Black references are technical and have nothing to do with race.)

    Why Don’t You/Yes But

    The first such game theorized was Why don’t you/Yes, but in which one player (White) would pose a problem as if seeking help, and the other player(s) (Black) would offer solutions (the “Why don’t you?” suggestion). This game was noticed as many patients played it in therapy and psychiatry sessions, and inspired Berne to identify other interpersonal “games”.

    White would point out a flaw in every Black player’s solution (the “Yes, but” response), until they all gave up in frustration. For example, if someone’s life script was “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die” a game of “Why Don’t You, Yes But” might proceed as follows:

    White: I wish I could lose some weight.

    Black: Why don’t you join a gym?

    White: Yes but, I can’t afford the payments for a gym.

    Black: Why don’t you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?

    White: Yes but, I don’t dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.

    Black: Why don’t you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?

    White: Yes but, after my knee surgery, it hurts too much to walk that many flights of stairs.

    Black: Why don’t you change your diet?

    White: Yes but, my stomach is sensitive and I can tolerate only certain foods.

    “Why Don’t You, Yes But” can proceed indefinitely, with any number of players in the Black role, until Black’s imagination is exhausted, and she can think of no other solutions. At this point, White “wins” by having stumped Black. After a silent pause following Black’s final suggestion, the game is often brought to a formal end by a third role, Green, who makes a comment such as, “It just goes to show how difficult it is to lose weight.”
    The secondary gain for White was that he could claim to have justified his problem as insoluble and thus avoid the hard work of internal change; and for Black, to either feel the frustrated martyr (“I was only trying to help”) or a superior being, disrespected (“the patient was uncooperative”).
    Superficially, this game can resemble Adult to Adult interaction (people seeking information or advice), but more often, according to Berne, the game is played by White’s helpless Child, and Black’s lecturing Parent ego states.

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