Facebook engineers bring Google+ Circles to Facebook

Four Facebook engineers have built Circle Hack, which lets you build friend lists on Facebook exactly how you build Circles on Google+.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While Google+ has been criticized for being a clone of Facebook, it implements a few features better than its counterpart. A team of Facebook engineers have ported one such Google+ feature, called Circles, to Facebook.

Facebook engineers Vladimir Kolesnikov, Peng Fan, Zahan Malkani, and Brian Rosenthal wanted to be able to organize their Facebook friends in the same way you can organize them using Google+. Since it took a bit of hacking, the team of four has called it Circle Hack and described it as "A one-night experiment with JavaScript (not affiliated with Facebook)." I first heard about Circle Hack via a message from Facebook Platform Partner Engineer Simon Cross on Twitter:

Interesting that people think Google+Circles is new - seen Facebook Friend lists? This makes a good point: http://t.co/flxYts4

Google+ allows you to organize your friends in customized Circles, like friends, family, or colleagues. You can then control the privacy settings for each Circle and share content only in that Circle. To include a person in a particular Circle, you simply drag their picture into the appropriate category.

You can organize your friends on Facebook as well with a feature called Lists. Setting up a list is much more complicated on Facebook, however, than setting up a Circle is on Google+. First, you have to click on the Account menu in the top right-hand corner, select Edit Friends, and then click Create a List.

From there, you have to go through multiple steps to organize your friends into customized Lists, including typing in names individually and selecting friends one by one, all in a small little window. Google+ and Circle Hack have a much easier drag-and-drop format.

Like Circles, the Circle Hack webpage is divided into two parts. At the top, you have all your Facebook friends represented by their name and profile picture in a contact card format. At the bottom, you have an area for creating new Circles/Lists. Each section has its own scroll bar, and you can resize each one by clicking on the dividing line between the two areas. All you have to do is select friends at the top and drag them to the bottom.

Circle Hack requires that you log in to your Facebook account and authorize the site just like you would any other Facebook application. Once you have a circle organized, you can click on the "Create list" link that appears in the center of your new circle to name it. The next time you open Facebook, you'll see the newly created list as an option in your Friends section and in your privacy settings.

Unfortunately, while Circle Hack lets you remove everyone from a newly created List, you cannot delete the actual List. To do that, you'll have to open Facebook and edit your Lists there.

Since Google+ was built after Facebook, Google has a huge advantage of fixing structural social network mistakes from the ground-up. Facebook created Lists long after the site went live, and the feature is not a core part of the social network, unlike Circles is on Google+. Furthermore, since people are only getting started on Google+, they can slowly build out their Circles as they add new friends. On Facebook, however, most people have hundreds of friends and it's simply a pain to organize them all. Even Circle Hack, which is a great attempt at simplifying the process, can only slightly reduce the effort required.

Although Circle Hack is not an official Facebook product, it does show that Facebook employees care about fixing certain aspects of the social network. The new website is a pretty good imitation of the Google+ Circles feature. I hope that Google+ and Circle Hack inspire Facebook to fix how Lists are created on the social network.

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