Blogs and blogging Social Web

More thoughts about as an indie social network

Brad Enslen is doing some great work over at, spreading the word about this innovative service. He published a post titled “The Case for Moving Your Social Network to“, that’s pretty self-explanatory.

I think there’s certainly merit in shifting your social network over to something like, in the near term at least. As Enslen explains –

As the name implies the primary thing you can do on it is write short form posts like Twitter and Facebook.  But you can also post long form posts just like you would on a conventional blog, just keep typing and when you hit 280 characters in a post a Title Field appears and you are long form posting – effortlessly.  There is no friction or barriers between you and just writing.

Posting is easy, like posting on Twitter and the blog just auto-generates itself.  You can post, “I like pizza.”  You can post a picture of your cat plus a poem about your cat. You can post a 600 word essay about the Chicago Cubs. Whatever you want, however short or long you want. It’s one of the features I like the most.  Posting photos is very easy on MB.  There are quite a few dedicated photoblogs there.

And you can move.  If you decide to move you can export all your posts and import them on a different blogging platform.  This is exactly why MB strongly encourages you to use your own domain it makes moving easier.

Brad Enslen

There are two challenges, as I see it at the moment:

  1. If your social graph/network isn’t using, it’s value for you may be pretty limited (or you can create a new network!); and
  2. I worry that shifting over to another, single service is repeating the same mistake we all made focusing our social streams into a small number of social networks that we don’t control. is certainly more open than Twitter or Facebook, and you don’t even need to host your blog there to participate, so it’s better in that respect.

I’ve been using as a pseudo-Twitter for a little while now. My blog posts publish there automatically, and I’ve discovered some fascinating people there along the way.

The syndication aspect is why I think there’s definitely something to adopting as a social network, even if it’s more of a stepping stone to something else. I’d love that “something else” to be a distributed social fabric that’s informed by posts on our personal sites/blogs.

I don’t think we’re quite there yet (wherever there is?), but I’m hopeful that we can move beyond a site as a static site or as a chunky blog, to a point where a site/blog can be a source of articles, and also simpler shares like status updates, Instagram-like photos, and so on. is the closest to that, that I’ve seen. Here’s Manton Reece’s overview of I think it offers a pretty good perspective on what this distributed social experience could look like:

I’m not really interested in moving my site away from WordPress, and that’s not because I work at Automattic. Overall, I enjoy using WordPress, and I think it’s one of the best options out there for publishing just about everything from a personal blog, to more complex publications.

Hopefully WordPress will evolve, and incorporate technologies that feed this loose vision of a federated social Web based on personal sites that talk to each other seamlessly. In the meantime, there’s a growing collection of plugins that add these pieces along the way (such as the wonderful IndieWeb plugins).

So, perhaps is a good candidate for an alternative to Facebook, and Twitter*. It’s certainly a couple steps in the right direction, while we figure out what a post-Facebook/post-Twitter social Web looks like.

*well, certainly Twitter given that doesn’t support privacy options you may want to use in a Facebook alternative, and assuming that the people you want to follow are on Twitter too …

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?

Social Web Useful stuff

The Path not taken

I just had my (roughly) quarterly Path checkin where I open the app and see if anyone I know is still using it. No-one new and certainly not any close friends or family members I would hypothetically connect with on Path.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice how nice the app is, particularly on my iPad. The design just seems to keep getting better (from my lay person perspective) and it is a big pity it didn’t take off in my social circles.

I was poking around in the “Add friends” screens and noticed a proximity based mechanism which is pretty cool. Notice the “In Person” option:

If you select that you have a nifty interface to scan a prospective friend’s QR Code. It is a nice, simple way to add a friend in a context that reinforces the whole close friends and family social network idea.

I still like Path’s model, more or less, and even though they have a spotty privacy record, the main reason it just isn’t that relevant (still) is its relative ghost town status. Facebook and Google+ are just more relevant.

Social Web

Google+ – you're just using it incorrectly

I have recently started using Google+ a lot more and the more I use it the more value it has for me. Rich Mulholland recently quipped that I am the only person using Google+ in South Africa and it turns out there are a lot more South Africans on Google+ although I don’t have a sense how many people are actually using it. I suppose that’s the point. Everyone can be signed up but if no-one is using it then it is still irrelevant. I don’t think that is the case at all (for one thing, the metrics used to compare Google+ with Facebook and Twitter are not appropriate), though, and I came across a post in my stream this morning which is worth reading (even by Google+ naysayers). It is titled “How I learned to love Google+” and its not written by a tie-dyed Google fanboy. This one paragraph sums it up for me:

People who find no value in Google+ are using it incorrectly. I’m sorry, it is the truth. You cannot be a watcher on Google+. On Twitter it is perfectly fine to sit back and watch the tweets go by. Pick up some information here and there and get your fill. You probably aren’t getting the most out of it, but it works because there’s so much information. If you are just watching Twitter, you will not find the same experience on Google+, mainly because there is information overlap, but also because Google+ users have oriented their posts and their experience towards conversations.

What I have realised about Google+ is that, while it can work pretty well as a Facebook-style social network, it works best if you look at it as a Twitter-style social network. Most of my friends and family are not on Google+ (even my wife terminated her account and has no real interest using it) so Facebook remains the place where I share all that personal stuff with them. On the other hand, Google+ has become a source of terrific conversations around various interests and topics and it’s structure is far more conducive to coherent conversations than Twitter, despite Twitter’s moves to draw conversational elements together.

Google+ doesn’t replace Twitter although I go through phases where I spend more time on Twitter and others where I spend a lot less because it frustrates me. My Twitter use is more out of an acknowledgement that there is huge value is going where the people are than a particular affinity for the service. On one hand I have tremendous respect for the work they do to protect their users’ rights and, on the other hand, aspects of the company culture bug me. Still, I have over 3 200 people who notionally follow me on Twitter and who form part of a terrific community who add real value to my life.

I am also not sure how much I should be relying on Google+ given its emphasis on Google’s platforms over others but balkanisation of the Web and social services seems to be a trend we are going to have to live with. The battle lines are forming between Google on one hand and an Apple-Facebook-Twitter coalition on the other side and that means co-operative interoperability remains a dream for the time being. What this means for me is that my publishing strategy remains complicated with different levels of engagement across Twitter, Facebook and Google with a fair amount of cross posting where the content is relevant to all 3 communities.

None of this is to say you must use Google+ but its worth having an active profile there. For one thing, Hangouts are worth being part of the service if you use nothing else. This feature makes Google+ really compelling to me because it is incredibly easy to do things like this (there is some wonky stuff happening with this video embed so if it doesn’t display, check it out on YouTube directly):

With Hangouts I can have a Q&A session with marketers about relevant legal issues without hosting a conference to get the points across. Well, conferences afford people with other opportunities and I intend doing some of those too but Hangouts give me a way to engage with a couple interested people and talk about issues that interest them in an informal setting and then the “On Air” bit allows me to stream that video to YouTube and embed it for later viewing. Oh, and the cost is time and the little bandwidth Hangouts consume. Wow! My mind is still blown away when I think about this even though this has been a feature since Day 1.

Going forward I’d really like to see an iPad version of the awesome iPhone app or a better Web app but the versions available work well enough. I’d also really like to be able to write to Google+ from apps other than Google Reader but that may come soon. Google I/O happens on the 27th of June and we may see some announcements there.

Bottom line here remains what I said about a year ago in my post about Google+:

If you are coming from Twitter and Facebook, Google+ may not be all that appealing to you. It may be because you are missing what makes Google+ so interesting or because your contacts and friends won’t be moving across so there is no incentive for you to either. That’s ok. Just bear in mind that there is something really dynamic and powerful happening there and you’re just not part of it.

If you are interested in connecting with me or my business pages, here we are:

Social Web

Focus on smaller and better quality and use it better

My late brother in law apparently used to tell girls he wasn’t particularly well endowed but was skilled at using it effectively. The line apparently worked quite well (I never fact checked it) for him and it comes to mind when I think about the push for more followers on Twitter, more Facebook subscribers and Google+ contacts.

When it comes to social connections, there is some value in having substantial followings and the general influence that confers on a person but I think more meaningful social groups probably tend to be smaller and more focused. The same thing tends to apply to clients.

The problem with large followings is that not all your followers read and ascribe to everything you say. I probably wouldn’t turn away a million fanatical Twitter followers if they arrived tomorrow but I find that I have better conversations with a dozen or so interested and engaged connections who share an interest in what I happen to be thinking or talking about at the time than the aggregated group of people who notionally follow me on various platforms.

Just a thought.

Design Mobile Tech Social Web

Are you on Path?

I read a Path 2.0 review on GigaOm’s theAppleBlog this morning and installed the app on my iPhone.

So what is Path? According to Colleen Taylor writing about the app’s launch for GigaOm:

Path 2 aims to be a “smart journal” that catalogs all the big and small moments of your daily life. Along with your photos and videos, the new app has features that let you keep track of your thoughts, the music you’re listening to, where you are, who you’re with, and even when you wake and when you sleep. You can choose to keep each update entirely to yourself, share it with your Path contacts (limited to 150 based on Dunbar’s number), or share it publicly via Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare (Tumblr support is on the way.)

I have heard of Path before and it didn’t really appeal to me but I thought I’d give it a try. I set up a Path pretty quickly on my phone and connected to the couple people I would include as friends for the purposes of personal sharing. I stopped there and wondered whether this sort of app would have value for me when I have Facebook available to me for more personal sharing and this blog for general sharing (not to mention Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Vimeo and more).

I suppose the point is that Path gives you the ability to publish a content stream to friends and family (you are limited to 150 people so you are encouraged to make your friends list a meaningful list) in a convenient mobile app. That is pretty much what I do on Facebook and Facebook isn’t limited to iOS and Android like Path is. It is also not another social network for my mom and wife to join and use in tandem with Facebook. That said, its a beautiful and dynamic app but design and functionality generally isn’t enough to sway users en masse. Ultimately, sharing only works if the people you want to share with are using the same service as you.