I wish the fediverse had ‘circles’.

This is a part of the 100 Days To Offload challenge.

Yes, the very circles that Google had introduced with their social network Google Plus back in the day. Yes, I want it in Mastodon/another ActivityPub implementation/the fediverse.

In Google Plus, a circle is a collection of people with whom you want to connect. Your Google Plus account comes with three pre-defined circles: friends, family and acquaintances. You can create your own customized circles. It’s up to you to categorize people. You can put people into more than one circle. For example, if you work with Josh Clark but you also consider Josh a friend, you can put him into your friends circle and a customized coworker circle. Circles let you share information with specific groups of people while excluding everyone else. They also let you read content from those groups while ignoring all the rest of the information on Google Plus. Putting someone in a circle doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back — a circle can be a one-way relationship. In this way, Google Plus is a lot like Twitter — you can follow people even if they don’t follow you back.

HowStuffWorks, retrieved 2021-08-30

Hometown, a soft fork.

My personal (also the main) microblogging account runs on a Hometown instance. The “flagship” feature in my opinion is local-only toots. I know the community is a safe space, so I feel freer making local-only posts when I need to.

I’ve been running Friend Camp, a Mastodon fork with local only posting, for about a year. Being able to have conversations with people on your server that don’t federate is a hugely liberating thing. It allows inside jokes to develop. It allows people the freedom to complain about things that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable leaving a trusted server (cops, employers, etc). It also lets us do things like have a server-wide movie night where we flood the local timeline with posts about the movie, and it doesn’t pollute the rest of the Fediverse.

Hometown’s repository’s readme as on 2021-05-05.

Darius has been working on this in his free time.

But oh goodness, the inconvenience!

As you might imagine, it’s super inconvenient keeping a main and an alt. Once upon a time, I had four!

One is a mix of public and tech, the other of course is my personal one. For the non-fediverse readers, keep in mind that it’s not uncommon to see folks on the fediverse keep many “alts” and even publicly disclose them on each alt.

With now Twitter also having locked profile, I have seen a similar concept take shape in practice.

Anyway, I wish I could stop using two accounts, but I cannot. You know what would have allowed me to do that?

Circles…or neighborhoods?

Circles… yes, the same ones from Google+ if you were young enough to witness that in action. It was an idea ahead of its time and more reflective of how a single person operates with multiple social circles.

Chris touches upon this in his blog post describing his idea of an ideal social network:

I’m mostly talking about the circles in Google+, which I think is a great concept. You get to decide who is in a circle and then you decide who you share a post with, which could be circles, individual people (maybe also referenced by email) or make it public.

The self-hosted social network I’m looking, published 2020-06-27.

I’d like SmallCamp to be my main account. But I post a lot of personal content, and I’m happy with the incredibly low follower count (37 at this time). So Fosstodon is my “public/tech” alt where my speech is…far more controlled, let’s say.

Imagine wanting to share something that shouldn’t only be shared on your instance, but beyond — but not with folks who I work with (for example). Circles was very elegant for this kind of thing.

Darius Kazemi explains his idea of neighborhoods, which in my opinion partially meets this kind of need:

Right now on federated social networks you have a concept of people on your own “home” server (which I’ll call local) and people on every other server in the world (which I’ll call public). […]

I would like to see groups of servers that band together through a kind of mutual approval system.

[…] I loved the concept from Google Plus of circles. […] This system sounded great to me… until I tried it in practice. And in practice it was so much tedious digital paperwork to keep it all fresh and updated. I didn’t want to manage people into one or more of dozens of categories and in the end I just went for the default “mutual friends on the social network” and “public” circles.

Run your own social – Beyond local and public: the neighborhood

He goes on to explain why his current ideation on neighborhoods is the way it is:

I think many of us can hold […] these groups in our head though, especially if it’s not the job of the individual user to constantly maintain it. I’m sure lots of people can hold more than three groups in their head at a time, but I’m picking the smallest useful number in order to reduce the confusion I experienced with Google’s “circles” feature.

Run your own social – Beyond local and public: the neighborhood

…which I agree with. It did sound great to all of us, but failed because the bookkeeping was unmanageable and a detriment to socializing…on a social network!

Existing implementations.

Through numerous comments on my Mastodon post, I have been made aware that there are plenty of implementations already available. To note some:

Friendica

Privacy and group control
* Private conversation groups – on these pages all communications are restricted to group members – similar to Google+ “circles” or Diaspora “aspects”

Friendica’s official features page, retrieved 2021-08-31

Diaspora

What happens when I deselect one or more aspects when making a public post?

Deselecting aspects does not affect a public post. It will still appear in the streams of all of your contacts. To make a post visible only to specific aspects, you need to select those aspects from the button under the publisher.

Diaspora Wiki: FAQ for users, retrieved 2021-08-31

Zap

Fedi software #Zap currently has a working version of G+ style “collections” that does exactly what you’re describing.

https://red.tiliches.net/item/044e3eab-b900-4b6d-a2ab-5e39f5ca0fb7, retrieved 2021-08-31

Hubzilla is another one.

Qoto.org, a Mastodon instance, even provides this as a custom/instance feature too:

Circles – You can now create circles with followers in it. When you make a post you can select one or more circles to privately post to and only users of those circles can see your post.

Qoto’s about page, retrieved 2021-08-31.

So what’ wrong with these other implementations?

I’ll keep this short — I don’t think many of these options are usable by an average person just yet. What about a mobile UI/application? What about a comfortable user interface on laptop/desktop?

I still do wish fediverse had circles, in the sense that they were available on a platform that featured an amazing implementation: ready to go for my friends: people who don’t deal with tech the way we do. My friends…who are not technical… who may need guidance in how to best use and maintain their circles — and for those cues to be present within the interface.

This is a huge reason I did not pick Pleroma. Mastodon has gotten it right the most. Hometown then became a natural choice for SmallCamp.

For now…

For now, I continue to keep these two alts. I know I am not alone in this journey, and not the only one frustrated by the current standards. People smarter than me, or my friends who talk to me about this, are working on good tech — and for that I am grateful! 😊

Fosstodon continues to be my public/tech alt, and SmallCamp my personal/main alt.

Join the discussion on Fosstodon, SmallCamp, Twitter, or write me an email. Featured image from TheVerge.com.

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