Social Web

Dear @Path – an open letter


Dear Path team

According to my Path profile, I have been a Path user for 2 years and have shared a mere 833 moments. I’ve been thinking about Path quite a bit in the last few months and why it stands out as a better social sharing option, in theory.

I have a couple friends on Path who use it with varying degrees of frequency. Unfortunately most of my close friends and family don’t use Path because they already use Facebook which is a pretty compelling option simply because everyone else is using it. You’re probably pretty familiar with this one.

Anyway, my Path friends and I have been chatting on and off about Path and how much we’d like more of our friends and family to start using it so it becomes even more worthwhile. That is essentially the way we measure Path’s value, for the most part. After all, if you share something on Path and no-one sees it, does the tree make a noise when it falls to the forest floor (well, you know what I mean)?

Another nagging worry is whether Path is going to be around in the months and years ahead? Path works so well as a sort of shared life journal, it would be such a shame to invest time and moments in our Path streams (what do we call them? Paths?) only to receive an email one day from Mr Morin telling us that doors are being closed, lights turned off and data exported because other people just walked a different social path (pun intended).

You see, you just don’t talk much about how many people are using Path or whether you’re seeing encouraging usage or engagement trends? Sure, the number of Path users is largely irrelevant because all that counts is whether our connections are using Path but if enough people are signing up and using Path, that must trigger the network effect at some point and even more people will jump on board, perhaps even more of my friends and family members? Heck, maybe my wife will even return to Path and use it now and then.

So what’s going on, Path people? Are we on the right track here? Is our social conveyance fuelled and humming along at a sustainable pace? Are you cooking up some cool enhancements and improvements that will make Path even more compelling to everyone else or should we still keep our Facebook profiles current … you know, just in case?

Hopefully you are all really busy helping users and stuff so I understand if it takes a little time to get back to me but a little kimono-opening would go a long way towards reassuring our little group of South African (geographical and by birth) Path fans and users.


Social Web

Path is the better personal network you've been waiting for

Path – Share Life from Path on Vimeo.

Path doesn’t have Facebook’s users or nearly as much public awareness and yet it is, by far, a superior personal network. For many people, Path is the social network they were hoping Facebook would be and isn’t.

I know a few friends and family who are apprehensive about Facebook and either use it reluctantly or skip it altogether. If they use it, it’s generally because their friends and family members are using Facebook to share stuff not because they see it as a meaningful way to keep in touch with the people they care most about. The problem is that Facebook is optimised for publicity and this makes a lot of people nervous because they could wake up one day and discover that Facebook made a change that exposes more of their data than they are comfortable with. It’s happened many times before.

On the other hand, Path is designed for a very personal, private experience. It is fundamentally different because of its emphasis on a more personal and meaningful experience. When people talk about any social network they almost inevitably compare it with Facebook and, given Path’s relatively tiny userbase, Path is frequently dismissed as Dave Morin’s wishful thinking. That is also a really superficial perception.

We essentially pay for our Facebook access using our personal information (demographics, preferences and connections) which Facebook uses to personalise ads we are inundated with in Facebook. That works better if we spend more time using Facebook and, in the process, giving Facebook more signals about which ads to present is with and which friends to associate with brands so we’d be more likely to click on pages and ads.

Because Path is not ad supported like Facebook, there is no need to persuade users to share anything publicly. Instead, Path is designed for privacy. Your default is to share with your connections who are preferably real friends and family members. The idea with the 150 connection limit in Path is to encourage users to focus on more meaningful and personal connections unlike on Facebook where users are constantly prompted to add more “Friends” whose value is ultimately sell more valuable ads.

When it comes to Path, having 20 connections is perfect if those 20 connections represent your real friends and family members who you most want to share your life’s moments with. Consider how many Facebook “Friends” you have. How many of those Facebook Friends would you regard as real friends? Is Facebook really a personal network or is its appeal its inertia?

Sure, Path’s utility to you is still dependent on whether the people you most want to connect with are Path users and that is likely to be the reason why most people will stick with Facebook with its overbearing ads and changing publicity settings.

It may be possible to improve your Facebook experience by trimming your list of friends and brands you follow. You should also see more updates from your Friends if you sort them into individual lists and check in with those lists (Google+ handles these lists far better with its Circles) but if you want a simple and beautiful way to share meaningfully, perhaps you should take a closer look at Path. Better yet, install it and try it out for a while. It may be what you’ve been waiting for.

Social Web

Why you would ditch Facebook and use Path

I’ve found myself thinking about Path more in the last few weeks or so and when it would make sense to turn away from the mammoth in the room: Facebook?

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?

Join Path from Path on Vimeo.

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 Stories – Claire from Path on Vimeo.

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.

]9 An alternative home screen

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.

Path – “Remember Life.” from Path on Vimeo.

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?