Written by: Claire Pfarr

July 4, 2023

After years of providing a safe, anonymous space for people to enjoy group support, Circles is beyond excited to announce a new feature that helps us further our mission of connecting people to others who truly understand. 

This week, we’re proud to launch a brand new feature–direct messaging between users! Jan Diniz, our Product Manager, has been leading the charge in developing and launching the ability for users to connect in this way–on a more personal and social level.

“I started realizing that our app has the potential to become a very social product,” said Diniz. “In the beginning we thought that people only wanted to connect with facilitators, guides, and other mental health professionals. But little by little, we realized that many people also want to use the app as a social network of support.”

With that realization, the product team began examining ways to transform the app and profile capabilities to function more as a social network. Making tweaks to profile features and allowing users to follow each other are ways to connect people and let them reach out directly to each other. 

Of course, in our environment, privacy and anonymity are always a top priority. The team wanted to make sure to preserve members’ preferred levels of privacy and only allow communications that are mutually desired. For example, users can’t simply search for someone and send a message to them. Profiles aren’t searchable in that way. But if users interact live in a room or public forum, they can access each others’ profiles and send messages. Of course, any user can block another user at any time if they don’t want to receive messages. 

We’re also expanding our forums to help people continue to connect and, as Diniz put it, “strengthen bonds” among users. There will be more topics for people to choose from, so if they  can’t find the right content for them in a facilitated discussion, they may be able to find the support they need in a forum. “We’re looking at the backend intelligence to understand–what is the right room for you? Who is the right facilitator? Who are the right people to connect with you?” said Diniz. It’s always our goal to ensure everyone has access to the right people and support at the right time. Diniz also explained the importance of scheduling topics at different days and times throughout the week so if users have a scheduling conflict but really want to attend a session, they’ll be able to find a time that will work for them. “If we manage to do this right type of matching, I think it can be pretty special.” 

Diniz described the ultimate dream–to be able to provide a variety of media and support for each user and their unique needs and challenges. “You’re seeking help at Circles, and suddenly, boom–you’ve got a whole program of content, podcasts, and sessions, along with people that should be part of your network of support. Right away, you’re not alone.”

Diniz also described one of the most rewarding things about working at Circles–watching a person who turns to the app for support transform into someone who is providing support to others. Helping others through a shared challenge can be a key part of the healing process. Being able to say “I’ve been there, and I’m here for you” is one of the powerful reasons we do what we do. We hope to create more facilitators and leaders from users who initially came to Circles seeking help. “It’s rewarding to know that every little feature we push is actually changing someone’s life. We’re creating technology to solve very complex social problems,” said Diniz. And with the launch of direct messages, we’re able to do that even better. “We’re giving them the chance to self-organize and strengthen the bonds of their inner circle and be super social. We see them exchanging phone numbers all the time. Now we can provide a safer place for them to connect.”

If you don’t already have the Circles app, now’s a great time to download it and connect with others. Whether it’s anxiety, divorce, health challenges, or just a stressful time in your life, there’s someone out there who understands and can relate. Download the app and feel better!