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Path Discovers Its Way To Being Useful With 2.0, But Could It Be Social Media Overload?

Path (photo credit: sardinelly/sxc.hu) I’ll admit it…sometimes it takes me a while before I can really get into some form of technology. Why? Because it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s rare but I don’t know what the business’s use case will be and how it will cater to those people who are beyond the range of Silicon Valley. Is the product useful for the mainstream? I don’t know, but I’ll admit that when it does strike, it’s often one of those Eureka! moments – and that’s what I’ve found out about Path.

A social network that failed, but is trying to succeed

In case you haven’t heard about it, Path is the brainchild of Dave Morin (@davemorin), a former employee of Facebook, who started this new social network  about two years ago, who’s main objective is to make your social network more relevant to those closest to you, not to force you to share your life in public, like some of the other social networks out there. In essence, Path was geared towards making your social life private, but with some sharing enabled – makes sense, right? Well that’s what some people believed and when Mr. Morin launched the first version of Path, it didn’t seem to be all that appealing after a while. A couple of the tech blogs even cited the service as doomed to failure, such as TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb. I, for one, passed it off for a failed startup because I was wondering why I would even think of using a service that is already well-represented by the liked of Facebook, where I can control album control and have as many people as I want to view it, along with Google+, where I can again moderate visibility of my postings through who’s in the designated “Circle”. These questions were even broached with the folks at Path a while ago and I even went more in-depth in looking at the mainstream users who aren’t necessarily “tech savvy” as I am or my friends are.

So why would I use Path?

PathIt’s a private social network, for one. What I see from Path is the opportunity for me to become more “social” with those who I genuinely appreciate more feedback from. While I can post things to Facebook and Google+ and receive comments, likes and the occasional +1, if these gratification reviews are from my close friends versus acquaintances, then I would value it more than normal. Plus, the ability for people to share it with their close friends allows them a sense of liberation and ability to go unfiltered and share whatever they want with a lowered fear of reprisal or exposure. Basically it’s like you’re sharing with a very tight-knit group of your friends in real life and you know that what happens in the group, stays with the group.

Another usefulness that Path offers people is that it’s entirely centered around the mobile environment. While prominent social networks like Facebook and Google+ have a wider audience, their sites are developed for website use first – only recently did they release a mobile application that people could access on their smartphones. Path, however, knew that the mobile market was growing and decided to create a site that would be entirely devoted to the mobile user. The point of Path is to share where you are going and what you’re doing. It’s quite frankly not sensible enough to share that through a laptop as you’re going from place to place. The developers knew that the best place to get real-time content from users is through mobile and when you did that, you automatically had an Internet plan that would allow you to share your content.

Just look at the Facebook mobile application: it’s not conducive to sharing with the granularity of privacy that you would want if you wanted to try and recreate the Path environment. You’d need to exert way more effort to make sure that only those people within specific friend lists would be able to view it, and what happens if you accidentally forget to post media/content to a specific list? Then it’s available for the entire world to see. It’s better to have more privacy and then filter it away later on – basically go from conservative to be more liberal.

So far, the reviews for Path have gotten better compared to the first iteration. Dare I say that the company underwent a bit of a mini-pivot after receiving some criticism for its application? Just last month, it relaunched and to some great acclaim.

TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis wrote:

There is something about waking up day after day to write about people who take risks; You end up rooting for some of them. This is the case with photo-sharing underdog Path.

Just over a year ago, her colleague, Erick Schonfeld wrote that Path was:

private photo sharing iPhone app similar to Instagram or PicPlz, except that it makes sharing photos more difficult than it needs to be.

So how much different can this new iteration of Path be? According to Ms. Tsotsis:

Morin tells me that users are sharing more things on the new Path in a day then they had on the old Path in a year — at a rate of 12 moments per second. The company is seeing 30x the number of daily active users, going from 10K to 300K in two and a half weeks. Rumor has it that it’s seeing 100k downloads a day (Morin wouldn’t confirm).

So there’s been a bit of buzz about Path and it’s turnaround and now people are clamoring to try this. With a limited number of friends you can be connected to (at this time: 150 people), people seem to find it a bit rewarding to be able to separate themselves from the noise and just go straight to a signal and share with their friends, many whom they would like to stay more in touch with intimately and without having to worry about other people “butting in”.

The design is a key to Path’s usage

In looking at the Path application on my Android device, I came across Robert Scoble’s (@scobleizer) Google+ post on the service. He basically proclaims that Path is the “private personal journal that kicks ass“. Why does he think this? Probably because of the design of the application. Mr. Scoble believes that the application is well-designed and it’s subtle but “feels good through the entire product” and I tend to agree. The user interface is smooth and easy to understand how to navigate.  I believe that the service is well-organized and structured in a way that people can find information relatively quickly and without any qualms about how to find other things to do.

Path’s problems and it’s true test

One of the biggest problems that many people will have is finding a way to overcome the Facebook and Google+ paradigm for how people perceive a social network. With over 800 million users on Facebook, why do people want to leave the network to join one where they have just another network to join, add more friends, and be restricted to 150 people that they can follow – it just seems like social network overkill. As I said earlier, we’re beginning to look to find a way to de-clutter the noise from amongst our friends — we need to find something that is valuable to us instead of all the Zynga game spam and other ads cluttering up the stream. And just how will the mainstream users feel about Path when it moves past the Silicon Valley and technology hubs in the United States? One thing that gave me pause to using Path in its old form is how will non-tech savvy individuals, like your grandparents, relatives, friends, parents, sibilings or spouse feel about the service. This was one question that I posed to Path directly a few months ago and I’m still not sure what motivation that they would get from having to understand using Facebook Connect to create another login account just to download another application where they’ll have to share their content again. It seems a bit redundant for mainstream non-tech users.

Primarily, Path came out on the iPhone – perhaps the most highest selling phone in the world today, and was rightly so to begin there. Only recently with the introduction of Path 2, did the service begin to roll out a version of the application onto the Android devices. But the two platforms are not identical: on iOS, I’m able to apply filters after taking a photo with the Path application, but on Android, this is missing. There’s a similar issue with the videos as well (I’ve heard this is coming soon), and the connectivity to social networks — apparently it works fine on iOS with Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook, but on Android, Facebook is the given problem. Needless to say, the integration isn’t 100% perfect and there’s definitely room for the service to grow.

So where does Path go now? Can the service monetize itself? Absolutely, but not in the traditional sense of the word – it would totally ruin the user experience if, all of a sudden, you’re using the Path application and Google AdWord banners start to appear on the top and bottom of the screen. It just adds more clutter. However, if special features like more friends, added photo filters, new integration with other social networks, exporting of data, etc. were offered, then people may pay for them and that could lead to more users and money for the company.

And what about brands getting on board? I’m hesitant to think about this route because I believe that Path should be a purely consumer-focused and isolated service. Why? I don’t think that brands should be contributing to the noise by “spamming” their followers. People will not want to give up one of their 150 valuable spots. I’d imagine that if any company wanted to participate on Path, they’d need to be 100% understanding of the types of people on Path and know the content that’s appropriate there. What is tweeted or posted on Facebook, blogs, or Instagram are not 100% acceptable for Path users. But for those users that have accepted brands, businesses should take note that these users are probably worth considering brand ambassadors and fundamental fans since they’ve given one of the sacred 150 spots to your company.

Download Path to test it out

So don’t take my word about Path. Make sure you try it out yourself and make your own judgement about the service. It’s available for Android and iPhone right now.

Photo Credit: sardinelly/sxc.hu

  • I’m finding that Path actually augments Facebook, not replaces it. Path does for Facebook what circles were supposed to do for Google+. If anything I think it helps make Facebook more useful because I can post Path updates to Facebook, or not. I still get the intimate feel of Path but still have the reach of Facebook when I want. 

  • @shanebarnhill

    Ken,

    I like your thoughts on Path’s potential for monetization. I’ve been wondering how they can monetize beyond photo filters.

    The other thing I’ll say about Path is that it has a real chance at becoming a primary “upstream” app for a lot of people — similar to Instagram — thereby relegating Facebook, Twitter and other services to “downstream” destinations for data. The user experience is far superior, which has led me to spend less time in Facebook, for example.

    Shane

  • Thanks @88af90eb9fc7824d1bd1e5d587868e43:disqus for the comment and I agree with you that Path has a real chance at becoming something similar to Instagram. Funny you bring that up because in looking at Path’s Crunchbase profile, they see their competitors as Instagram and PicPlz.  Most people, with respect to Path, are probably going to be posting photos to their stream anyways – great opportunity for them to make more filters (and make them available on Android devices).

    And the user experience is definitely superior to Facebook, in all respects, both from a design and mobile standpoint. I think people will post more “personal” stuff on Path and other private social networks instead of Facebook moving forward. Well, that is, IF Path moves forward in the mainstream and becomes a force to be reckoned with.

  • @tacanderson:disqus Are you suggesting that Facebook could buy Path and make it an “option” for people to have their own private social network? I’m not sure it augments it, but definitely will not replace it. For many business professionals, they go to Facebook to interact with a host of audiences. While first they joined to be connected to family, then friends, then colleagues, and eventually vendors, clients and other stakeholders, their Facebook pages soon become something of a melting pot – there’s no way to make it private. Path has probably seen and recognized it (at least I hope so) and therefore made the effort to have 2.0 be that “happy place” where users can go and reclaim their “privacy” when sharing photos and thoughts with their 150 closest friends who they appreciate feedback from.

    Path definitely has an intimate feel to it and I think it’ll stay that way for quite some time…will posting to Path lead to a reduction in the postings on Facebook? I doubt that because you’re going to be able to share content to both and want maximized exposure…wider audience means more “likes”, emoticons, and comments. Apparently that’s a win…

  • I think of Path as a layer on top of Facebook. I actually see a lot of services becoming “upstream” private or niche social networks with the big guys being “downstream” social networks soaking up all the data. Private pre-party vs. public party. I wrote about it last week. http://www.newcommbiz.com/what-path-teaches-us-about-the-future-of-social-networks/

    I don’t think Path’s interested in selling but Facebook will make a play for them if they haven’t. Path’s founder was one of the early guys at Facebook.  

  • Joserose

    Path has decided to strip us of our rights to anything we post. Why do they need to do this. If I post a picture they can do whatever they like with it. Does this mean that they are not only reviewing our individual pages, but selling that information. I will pay for the use of this if it protects my information from Path!