Rather than get caught up in the usual arguments against using Path, I thought I’d look at this mobile-first, personal network from a different perspective and ask why it makes sense to use Path even though most of us already use Facebook?
I suppose the starting point is that Path makes sense if you want an alternative to Facebook as the service you use to share your life and thoughts. Sure it is a massive social network and odds are that most of your friends and family are on Facebook but is Facebook all that personal anymore?
“Friends” doesn’t mean friends anymore and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Facebook News Feed is as much about ads as it is about the few meaningful updates about your “friends” you may want to receive. In fact, as a Facebook user, you tend to see relatively few updates from your connections because Facebook’s algorithms filter the updates for you and pick what you would probably be interested in, usually leaving out what you really are interested in seeing. This is fine if you don’t care too much about your so-called Facebook friends but it is a problem if your reason for using Facebook is to take part in your real family members’ and friends’ lives.
On Path, you see what your fewer (150 maximum) friends post and a great time-date stamp indicator gives you a much better sense of a timeline than your Facebook Timeline. You have to be more selective about who you connect with so you are forced to focus on true friends and family members. I recently went through my Facebook connections and found myself removing a lot of connections to people I don’t know at all or drifted away from and probably won’t reconnect with.
I wonder how much sharing I do for the sake of sharing without it being meaningful? When I share updates these days, I share to multiple services because my connections are scattered. That is exhausting and I have a strong desire to simplify this aspect of my life so I can stop thinking about where to share stuff and focus on sharing more meaningfully.
Path is an interesting service. It doesn’t lend itself to publicity like Facebook. It is designed for intimacy and privacy while Facebook is designed for publicity (2014-01-10 Correction: publicity, not privacy). If you step back you see how those different approaches manifest in the services.
Path doesn’t have brand pages to like (at least, not yet) and keep up with. Unless you are determined to introduce brand updates into your activity feed, this is probably a relief. I wonder if the reason why brand updates are integrated into our Facebook News Feed isn’t because Facebook ultimately has to show value to advertisers in being on Facebook and paying for ads. That happens if our attention is focused on those brands.
On Path your focus is on friends and family. You share your life with them moment by moment as you experience those moments. You don’t have a Web app for Path, it is all mobile so it is perfect for sharing your moments while you live them, not living your life on Facebook. I like the idea of sharing not getting in the way or being sucked into Facebook because my access to Facebook is funded spending more and more time in my News Feed.
Path also doesn’t support photo albums like Facebook does so Path is not another service to upload albums of photos. That can be taken care of using other services like Flickr (yes, been around a while but looking better and better) which allow for public and more private photo sharing. On Path, you share photos and videos which represent moments as they happen because that is all about sharing the moment, not building up a collection of albums for perpetuity. In this sense Path is a bit like Instagram. It’s more about your lifestream.
If Path is where you share personal experiences with your friends and family, you’ll probably use Twitter for public updates and perhaps your WordPress blog for longer pieces. WordPress integrates with Path so you can share his blog posts in Path (although it isn’t a terribly appealing implementation at the moment – basically a title and a link). I can see these apps fitting into a simpler, flexible and more meaningful set of sharing options.
Path is a lightweight way to share moments in your day with your friends and keep in touch with them through their Path streams as well as private messages. Imagine Facebook without the ads and cruft; with only your real family and friends. It seems to fit well in a trend away from Facebook to options like WhatsApp groups for private sharing although one big challenge is platform support. Path is currently only available on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. A Windows Phone version is apparently coming soon.
Another nice feature is contextual search which you can use to search for moments based on a variety of criteria. It’s nicely implemented even if it isn’t necessarily the reason why you would use Path over something else.
I’ve thought about the possibility of switching to Google+ if I decided that it was time to really move on from Facebook. Google+ hasn’t really become a significant personal sharing network. It is closer to Twitter which, in turns, is beefing up personal sharing through more emphasis on direct messaging but still doesn’t qualify as a meaningful personal sharing network if your idea of a personal sharing network is limited to real friends and family.
The challenge with Path is still whether your friends and family are using it and, in most cases, they aren’t. They’re on Facebook. I have a couple newer friends on Path and even though my older friends and family don’t use Path, it is interesting to see new friendships form and grow on Path. I’d love to see more of my friends and family trying Path out. It is probably the only way to really see whether it is a worthwhile alternative to Facebook but the network effect is compelling.
That said, with Path’s emphasis being on smaller and private circles of friends and family, comparisons to Facebook’s user numbers are largely irrelevant. If your 20 close friends and family members are using Path with you, it doesn’t matter how many people are using Facebook. What is important is that the people who matter most to you are using Path with you. Isn’t that more meaningful?