The concept of a circle stems from how most peer groups (small social network) start: with a small group of folks. This is the very old idea of clans, tribes and even villages. Jared Diamond's excellent book Guns, Germs and Steel, describes how these groups originated in primitive human societies. The fact is that this is still the way many communities start, but of course, with a different purpose than survival. The small group allows the members to get to know each other on a more personal level, become familiar with their interests, and what they want to work on together. This relationship building on a one-on-one basis in a small circle greatly improves the bonds between members and allows that social network to exist.
Per my previous scale, a social network exists when the members know each other and have a vague or a definite idea of why they want to meet, but do not formalize the group with an identity. This means that the group in a social network tends to fall apart as enough people leave, since it only exists based on the individual relationships between the people; once those relationships are broken, the group breaks apart entirely. A community however, has an identity separate of the individual relationships, so the chances are that it can exist without the original members as long as there are enough people who know how to carry on the community.
The value of the small circle is the relatively tight bonds that exist (or the circle just wouldn't last very long). As more members join in, they look to the original circle for guidance and leadership. This is a basis for a stronger community. Having such circles makes it possible to build a community from ground up. There are some prerequisites, many of which are obvious when it comes in-person circles, but harder to implement in virtual circles:
- regular meeting times
- easy ways to communicate directly with other members one-on-one
- easy ways to communicate directly with others as a group
- understanding nuances, facial expressions, body expressions, etc.
This may be the basis for a circle/small social network, but it is still different from large social networks and communities.