When I first heard about the new "Path" social network/application, I have to admit that the thought of yet another social network was cause enough to roll my eyes and groan. I thought the over-hyped race for the Best Social Media Platform was over. I thought we had established the leaders and collectively made our decisions as online community participants and social butterflies. Hoping that Path wasn't going to tout currently existing technologies and ideas as 'new', I downloaded the app from iTunes, registered and gave it a whirl.
What's The Scoop?
Basically, the concept for this social experience was based on research done by Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. According to Dunbar, one hundred fifty is the maximum number of social relationships that the human brain can sustain or focus on at any given time. Dunbar's research also concludes that personal relationships tend to increase or expand in factors of three. This means that while we may have five people whom we consider to be our closest friends, and twenty whom we maintain regular contact with, fifty is roughly the outer limit of our personal connection pool.
According to a blog post on their website, "Path allows you to capture your life’s most personal moments and share them with the 50 close friends and family in your life who matter most. Because your personal network is limited to your 50 closest friends and family, you can always trust that you can post any moment, no matter how personal. Path is a place where you can be yourself."
That still wasn't compelling enough for me to really care about this. You could use that same tagline, swap out the number 50 with 'thousands' and then use it to market Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. We're still talking about sharing our content with family and friends here, right? To me, it sounded more like a tagline created as a means to capitalize on the security/privacy discussions that are making Facebook users uneasy as well as address the rise in social network noise that happens when you don't know how to dial in your Facebook experience to your specific needs, managing your stream, feeds and users. Remember, allowing more than fifty connections on Facebook is a choice we make, for a reason.
For those of us early adopters of social applications, sites, and technologies that know how to manage our connections and their visibility into our daily lives, this just seemed like something else to maintain, learn how to use, and provided no new experience for the general socially active online population. Other than limiting your connections to a smaller number with the intent of keeping it more meaningful, it really doesn't do anything that we aren't already doing on Facebook. Sites like Facebook and Twitter serve a different purpose for each individual. I'm not sure limiting what they can do and how they can do it would be considered a 'selling point' or a better experience.
Here's Why I Dig It
I don't care about the behavioral science part of the story. I don't care about who is listed on the Path About Page, who was involved in the project or who is on their board of advisors. While all those people have done some amazing things and are well known in their respective tech spaces for a reason, at the end of the day, it's about meeting a real need with something new that isn't already being done.
I believe there is a need and a niche for Path. I believe it's for a very specific type of social network user. Everyone has a dominant method for sharing their ideas, content, and life experiences on Facebook. Some people share mostly through status updates, others use it to simply observe and stay in touch through the private messaging function, others just share news or a post on their personal/business blog. They say it's intended for a more personal experience with location and photos and people you interact with most but let's face it, we've already been doing this on Facebook for years.
So who is Path for and why should you care?
I have to say that Path seriously rocks for the social and mobile-enabled photographer, especially for us artsy types that overshare with a visual vengeance. From the sign up process to the use of their website, to the UI and flow of their mobile offering (currently available for iPhone only), they do an amazing job of taking simple, social, artistic and visual, and mashing them together into a really cool experience. The types of content and media that I share more than anything on Facebook and Twitter are captured moments through mobile photography from my iPhone. Path takes how I choose to share the bulk of my life with others online and validates it with a social application made just for people like me.
Another cool thing about Path is that when you take a photo with your iPhone to share, it automatically attaches a geographic marker/link to your 'current location' at the time the photo was taken and submitted. For those cringing at the geo-location mobile app craze, this app might not be for you. Personally, I think it's a cool feature to help add some context around the photos themselves. I'm big on story telling via photography and Path does it well with a minimal text field and a focus on letting those you are sharing with build their own creative thoughts about your photographic moments.
The balance that I'd encourage you to think about of course is making sure that while you take the time to capture your moments with the Path application, you also make it a priority to enjoy the moment without your iPhone in hand.