I thought you were on hiatus, esquire. I feel like my posts are becoming esquire-esque in length and substance.
I'd first caution against confusing my opinion with that of all that represents IPS. From a product standpoint, no one person makes decisions and we do not let our own egos shape the product against the grain. In fact, there's several things that I would personally do different in the suite if I could, but they prove to be in contrast to the expectations of most others. Products are shaped according to our customers' needs... and by that, I mean not just the most vocal customers, but the customers we "visit" throughout the course of our day for support, sales and follow-up as well as those whose feedback we obtain from here. You guys seem to think we have no idea what we're talking about here and we work in a vacuum because our views don't always line up. We might not fit your current needs perfectly, but perhaps your needs don't necessarily represent the tens of thousands of others we're trying to meet. That doesn't lessen or take away from your feedback, but please, genuinely consider the above and trust that we haven't just been beating our heads on the walls for the past 13yrs and actually might have what resembles a clue... and if not, you can at least tell us "told you so."
I'll repeat again... we never had a "friends system" - we had a "friends list" that again, essentially served no purpose other than to seemingly recognize relationships via an entry in the database. Admittedly, we underestimated how seriously a few people take the ability to require approval to be listed as a "friend" and I'm sorry for that frustration. The point remains, you're asking for all new functionality or to bring back an arbitrary list (I'm sure we could do that with a hook, if really desired.)
Please also remember that in this industry, nothing is ever set in stone. We've said many times over that IPS4 was all about creating a new platform with a baseline approach that can quickly evolve and adapt to market needs and trends. I have never, to-date said we will not add a friends option and in fact, have repeatedly asked for folks to elaborate on what you envision an actual friends system to be. The desire to create a private clone of Instagram, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn is at least a tangible reason, though I'm not sure how actionable. I'd remind you, those services all exist independently for a reason.
To be clear, I think we all agree on the desire for a powerful turnkey community solution that allows you to share all forms of content and engage with others. I think we disagree in your contention that end-users should be able to treat the site as a personal repository in which they can pick and choose who sees their blog entries or status updates or posts. That , in my personal opinion (and I stress that) is against the very premise of a community and you're once again full circle back to private social media and reinventing the wheel. You're clearly saying "IPS, why do you care, give us the option and let us worry about whether it's a silly idea or not!" That's a very fair-enough question/statement to make when you have a limited focus of what you want from the software. From the perspective of those who have to develop and support these ideas for the benefit of the masses, all angles need to be considered and represented. "Friends" didn't make the cut in IPS4 because it didn't fit the current scope of IPS4. It didn't do anything (and for Cheers' benefit, anything that can't be done in IPS4) and it was far more popularly requested to create a system in which one can follow another's content without the facade of "friendship" than to create a private replication of all social media networks in one or an arbitrary, non-functional list. Further, having both or a toggle without enough differentiation would just be utterly confusing to the user and as with anything, more confusion is more support overhead and end-user frustration.
For what it's worth, there are hundreds of sites cited in your examples that already use the software. Mental health support, nightclubs, escort sites, you name it. Some have private VIP areas with permission masks, some have admin-approved registrations, some have access to more areas the more they participate, etc. It's generally accepted that if you're a part of a community, what you post is accessible to other members of that community and if the admin so chooses, to others outside of the community. In reference to Gallery, private albums were initially not in IPS4. It was a material feature in IP.Board and during the focus group and preview stages, there was a strong demand to bring them back -- so we did.
There are immediate plans to improve upon the follower system (and I personally like the "bond" suggestion made by another customer for mutual followers.) There are overall plans to significantly improve social engagement. Whether these will include plans of a "friends" system is an unknown and will largely depend on what functionality could be tied to it. I for one don't envision the suite taking a direction in which an end-user, can say "I ONLY want my best friends to see my blog entries" -- but you never know. If that's the direction the user base takes us, that's where we'll go! I can tell you that at the moment, that's seemingly not what most want and thus the development and support time expended would have little gain and unnecessarily add to the software.
I'll reiterate again, we're not done here yet and never will be. IPS4 is not a refactor of IP.Board - it's a new product line that will continue to evolve and mature. We've had an overwhelming sales response to IPS4, even in RC stages, but we understand some that grew very accustomed to the way IP.Board did certain things may have some, at least initial, hesitation or disappointment. Conversely, many are and will be excited about the flow of other areas and the new functionality and features. I would love to be something to everyone, but we can't and frankly, we're not going to pretend to try. At this point, I can only ask that you trust once we're over the initial release and stability hurdle, you will see marked advancement of the suite. It may not be entirely and perfectly suited to your every need (what is?) - but you certainly won't be able to say nothing is happening. In the interim, IP.Board/Blog/Gallery/Content/etc. still exists, is stable, fully supported, we still patch it and it seems it's fitting your needs relatively well -- there's no immediate need to upgrade, so why not relax and later revisit IPS4 to see if IPS is the right fit?