For a long time now I have had a burden to help parents do something—anything!—to train, protect, and oversee their families online. This burden grows every time I speak on the subject of pornography and am approached by another group of young people who want to talk about how they came across pornography at a young age and the effect it has had on their lives. It grows still further when parents tell me of the difficulty they have in understanding and overseeing the million-and-one devices in their homes.
I recently received Circle, a device and app that allows parents to manage content and usage across all of the family’s Internet-connected devices. With Circle, parents can filter content, limit screen time, and set a bedtime for every device in the home. Circle can even pause the Internet and provide reports of what each person has been up to online. I was immediately impressed and saw the potential for it to be just the kind of device parents have been looking for. We have been using it in our home ever since and have found that it works very well. (Read my review)
I recently spoke with Jelani Memory, co-founder of Circle, and asked him a few questions:
Tim Challies: Talk to me about the genesis of Circle. How and why did it come to be?
Jelani Memory: You know, it really grew out of a conversation I had with one of the other Founders about the change in connectivity for families over the last 10 years. It has become so obvious that what parents faced when we were growing up was dramatically different from what we are facing. We both have such a strong desire to find a way to ensure that the future of our families and the connected family in general will be one where kids can get the most out of the web while staying out of the worst. So we set to work, two really untechnical dads, to envision a way to do just that—to meet our own and every other parent’s main needs when it came to managing all the connected devices in the home. When we reached out to our third Co-Founder, Tiebing Zhang, he took the seed of our ideas and made it technically possible. From there we were off to the races!
TC: In general, how has the early response been?
JM: The response has been amazing! Like, way better than we ever could have hoped. You see, one of the challenges we faced was that there was no existing product category that we fit into. Circle wasn’t the router, nor was it software on a device. It was a new third thing. So just the task of communicating that as well as all of Circle’s great features was a challenge that we had to overcome. The response has confirmed that not only do people get it, but they love it. It’s hitting all the right pain points for them. Of course, because they love it so much, they want it to do all sorts of new things. We are now grinding away to bring those things to the product.
TC: Which of Circle’s functions has gotten the most buzz so far, and why do you think that is?
JM: Surprisingly the Insights feature has gotten the most attention. We knew that it was an important bit when we designed it out, but folks have really gravitated toward it because of how much it pulls back the curtain on how their family spends time online. This is also where the wish list is the biggest because people want to be able to see and do so much more. We love the enthusiasm around what we believe is probably our most unique feature.
TC: You have begun developing a user community for Circle owners. What role will this community play in extending and improving Circle’s functionality?
JM: I was intent on building a community for Circle users where they could talk directly with each other and us here at Circle about what they loved, hated, wanted to see, and wanted changed. It was important to me that they had a place where they had a voice that led directly to our ears. This version of Circle is just the first step in what we hope to be the number one way families manage content and time in the home. Giving users the ability to speak into that is key.
TC: What are a few new features you expect to roll out in the near future?
JM: Well I can say that we’re hoping to roll out a more expandable and robust version of the platforms that are available in the filter and time limits. It was always in our roadmap to make sure that profiles felt tailored to each member of the family and we’ve got some really cool ways to bring that about. We’ve also got some really great bits coming down the pipe in the future that I can’t really talk about, but we think users will love.
TC: You say that next year we will see Circle Go, which will extend the functionality to devices outside the home. What can you tell us about that technology and when it will be available?
JM: We’ve approached the technology from a lot of different angles and believe we’ve found a solution that’s simple and yet provides all the functionality we need. It really is a mix of VPN and an MDM strategy. I can’t say more, but it will enable the parent to manage those mobile devices just like they do at home. We’re still targeting a Q1 release date for Circle Go, so stay tuned!
TC: I continue to use Circle in my home and continue to recommend it. It is not the perfect solution—there is no perfect solution! But it does what it claims and does it as well as anything I’ve seen.
Circle is currently available for shipping within the United States. It will expand to other markets in 2016. You can learn more and buy Circle here.