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Path: People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 13

Path started off as a social-networking-enabled photo-sharing and messaging service for mobile devices, much like Instagram, in November 2010.

Later, Path changed its purpose from sharing only images, to videos, places, thoughts, etc, to become a ‘smart journal’ through which people could share their experiences with their closest friends and family, on the go.

Users can have up to 150 friends because David Morin, co-founder and CEO, wanted to create a community with more personal and high-quality interactions.

Our long-term grand vision here is to build a network that is very high quality and that people feel comfortable contributing to at any time.

Path started off as an iPhone application, releasing an Android version later. It can be downloaded from App Store for iPhone and Google Play for Android users.

Version 1.0 was all about sharing photos, and with an even smaller network of 50 people.

Users could tag each photo to people, a place and with a ‘thing’ in it. Path called it a ‘moment’.

While this picked up initially, the hype subsided as there were few activities and the number of people users could share their experiences with were restricted.

Version 2.0 made up for this by allowing up to 150 friends. Users can now share a number of activities – friends can stream a song you’re listening to, where you are or even how much you’ve slept! Over a million people have shared when they woke up or slept.

Path’s new ‘Automatic’ mode updates friends about users’ activities without permission, a little like Facebook Timeline apps. For example, Path can track where a user is vacationing through GPS and update his/her friends about it. This feature can be disabled if users are uncomfortable with it.

Stephen Robinson said on Social Steak :

Path 2 is a brilliant way to keep track of your favourite people and what they are doing in a sexy, slick and additive to use app. I’ve used Path 2 more in the last week than I did with version 1 in a whole year, that is how much an improvement this is.

Path hopes that since friend groups are smaller and more curated, users will feel more comfortable sharing these details on it rather than on Twitter or Facebook.

Simply put, Path allows people to be themselves without thinking what others feel about their preferences and what they share.

Another insight was that social networkers were craving more intimate interactions with closer connections. There are only so many people you can stay in touch with. While this number differs from person to person, Morin felt that most people interacted with only 20 to 30 others at any given time on social networks and in real life.

We thought there was a genuinely interesting opportunity to build … a very personal, very private network.

Ben Parr explained the reasoning behind the number in his post ‘With a 50 Friends Limit, Path Is the Opposite of Twitter’ :

Path calls itself “The Personal Network” because it’s determined to go against the example set by Twitter‘s follower model; you are limited to just 50 friends on Path. It chose the 50 number based on the theories of Oxford professor of evolutionary psychology Robin Dunbar, who claims that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships any human can handle.

This probably explains why the number was raised from 50 to 150.

Users can add friends directly from their phone address books. They can also add friends via Facebook and invite them through e-mail or SMS. Additionally, the ‘Suggestions’ menu displays people who users may know on Path. If users see someone they want to share their Paths with, they simply have to tap ‘Add’.

A new way of adding friends is through an algorithm called FriendRank. Thanks to integration with Facebook, Path scours through users’ Facebook friends, photo tags and other interactions to figure out five friends that are Path-worthy. If the user agrees, he/she can add those friends to Path.

As described by social media enthusiast, Andrew in an article:
Meh.
Twitter and Path do not compete and will probably never compete. If you know anything about graph theory, this becomes obvious.
Twitter is a directed graph. Connections are *not* mutual.
Facebook is an undirected graph. Connections are mutual.
Path is an undirected graph. Connections are mutual.
You should compare Path to Facebook and not Twitter.
Here’s another way of putting it:
Facebook are the people you went to highschool with. Twitter are the people who you went to highschool with. Path are the people who you still hang out with from highschool.
(of course, they aren’t limited to highschool, insert “people you work with” or “college” if you want)

 

With Path’s initial focus on photo-sharing through mobile platforms, it was compared to networks such as Instagram and PicPlz.  As mentioned by Cnet writer, Caroline Mccarthy 

All in all, it’s like a more tightly restricted Instagram, minus the artsy camera.

When Path allowed users to share more than just photos, it drew comparisons to Facebook, more so with the shift to Timeline and mobile.

Facebook’s Timeline apps have been devised for the mobile, to make people share stories with friends through ‘actions’ automatically reflected on their pages. The only difference is that Facebook lets users share activities with all friends and acquaintances, while Path lets users share information with a select few.

This has left certain social media blogger, Jen O on blog Mama Pop disappointed:

The premise is basically the same as Facebook – you log on to share pictures and thoughts with your friends. Oh, wait. That’s not “basically the same”, that’s exactly the same. No! It’s different because you’re only allowed to have 50 friends! So, it’s exactly the same, but smaller? Okaaay… couldn’t we just do that with Facebook, but limit the friend requests we accept to just those to whom we’re closest?

Path identifies itself as a companion, not a competitor to the Facebooks of the world – an approach that most social networking start-ups are taking now. It would be arrogant for start-ups to not add a Facebook connect or an integration of some sorts.

Path allowed users to add Facebook friends through ‘FriendRank’, and in version 1.5 it added sharing with Facebook to the experience.

Through ‘Automatic’, users could post photos and videos to their Facebook wall, either publicly or for a select group. Users can also share and check in on other networks such as Foursquare and Twitter.

At the same time, Path was termed as an ‘anti-social network’ by some marketing experts. As Business Insider writer Dan Frommer stated in his article – ‘Path Launches to Save You From Facebook’ 

This is sort of the opposite of sharing things on Facebook. That’s because Facebook is constantly pushing you to expand your friend circle and publish more stuff publicly

Most social networks constantly push users to expand their circle through increased interactions. Path, however, asks users to do the exact opposite. It encourages users to restrict their friends list, stressing on ‘quality circles’ rather than ‘quantity circles’.

“If you look at how these networks are grown, they start out really high-quality,” said Morin, “and as more and more people join, it becomes hard to find people you care about. With Path, you have to be friends with them in the real world in order for them to pop up on your screen.”

This strategy has received a mixed response. Copywriter Eric Anderson explained why he liked this logic taken on his blog post, ‘Path, The Anti Social Network’ :

People are much more likely share personal information with 150 of their closest friends on Path than, say, 500 friends and acquaintances (many of whom may be people they barely know or probably haven’t seen in years) on Facebook.

He also said why he thought it would be difficult for people to accept a private social network:

Let’s face it: You’ll let anyone follow you on Twitter or Google+. You don’t care if 100 or 100,000 people know what you ate for breakfast. And while Facebook is inherently a permission-based network, you found that girl you dated in 5th grade and haven’t spoken to in 20 years and you friended her, right? It’s okay, though, because the social paradigm has shifted. 10 years ago a phone call to your neighbour who moved away when you were kids would be no less than creepy, but it’s common practice now.

This strategy, however, worked as Path was downloaded more than 1.5 million times in its first year.

Experts said that Path was exactly like Facebook Timeline – “sharing your personal journey in a journal with the help of actions through Timeline apps and by sharing images, videos, milestones, status updates”. The only difference is that it can boast of a more advanced and user-friendly design on the mobile, and is far more private in nature.

Social media enthusiasts have mostly loved Facebook, but have always pointed to privacy as a major concern. Path made sure it tapped into this segment. As mentioned by a social media enthusiast Vilder on a Mashable article :

This touches on a fascinating trend in our social relationships. Facebook has transformed the way we live and think about friendships. 873 friends? Really? It’s absolutely ludicrous to think that have enough time, energy and brainpower to manage relationships with this many people. I think this 50 friends limit is an interesting twist on this social networking site.

Most Path users tend to be families, especially new mothers who want to share baby pictures with close relatives. While you can have up to 150 members, most users have only 10 to 15.

Downloads dropped drastically when Path was rocked by a privacy controversy. A developer from Singapore, Arun Thampi, detailed on his blog how the app for iOS accessed users’ contact information when it added contacts from the address book, and uploaded that data to Path’s servers – all without the user’s permission.

This created a firestorm as privacy was the reason users signed up in the first place.

User and Mashable reader Nicolas Hayek expressed his displeasure:

It’s a disappointment to adopt a sneaky approach by a social platform that promised its niche a good amount of privacy. Guess we’ll always have to be vigilant when it comes to online sharing.

Morin apologised, announcing that Path had deleted all the personal data on its servers.

In trying to connect new users to their family and close friends, Morin said that pulling in address book and Facebook data, as a way to “recommend people to you when you joined”, seemed like a good idea. “The way we did that turned out to be not the way users liked,” he acknowledged.

Adding friends from your address book is now optional and users are asked for permission.

This immediate response received a mixed response too, but many like Bob Ferrin  appreciated Morin owning up to his mistake and correcting it right away:

I don’t use Path, although now I’m interested to check it out. Based on what you reported, I can appreciate most of the conversation with CEO David Morin. I think at least half of app developers (if not most) don’t want to step into the wrong side of privacy issues, since inevitably their apps land in the hands of many savvy users and their missteps generate more presence and opinion on the web than the corrections the companies make in the end.
The best thing Morin can do is keep the conversation going, and stay candid with folks. If he’s deflecting, a better response might be, “we kept to the letter of the guidelines, and we could be more conservative when it comes to privacy issues.”

Whilst Path has plenty of fans, it has detractors too.

The most notable criticism is of the social media space getting saturated. Critics said that for a new social network to emerge, it needed a niche audience and a different purpose, like Pinterest. Mashable reader Shop HDE agreed :

Agreed, there isn’t much room for yet another social network. I get that there may be a smaller group of friends that you want to easily share photos and other media with, but who really wants to open up ANOTHER account just to do that? Especially with Facebook’s new group feature. Don’t forget, Google tried it too with Google Wave, but now that’s being discontinued

Another scathing attack on Path was about it not being ‘social’ enough as it encouraged users to share less with fewer people, contrary to what other networks do.

As described by writer Dan Frommer in an article on SFGate :

Facebook and Twitter are making people more promiscuous with what they share. Sure, there will always be some stuff you don’t share publicly. But the trend is toward sharing more, not less, so this may work against Path.

Path was typecast as yet another network aiming to displace Facebook, but being too similar to it to make users shift platforms. Critics said that Path lacks a USP that has made networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube so popular.

The small user base was also cited as a concern. Even though there were early adopters, not too many of their close friends made the switch. This defeated the purpose of sharing your path with your loved ones.

Founder and Managing Director of UltraLinx, Oliur Rahman said :

It’s great to be part of those “early adopters” and I’m sure everyone here is in that group too. Shame we’re too far ahead from the rest of the world aye ;).

Another challenge is creating a sustainable, scalable revenue stream.

Morin said that he wanted a revenue strategy of premium features and brand partnerships.

Path began its revenue stream by creating a premium feature called ‘Lenses’. It takes photos and videos that users shoot through their phones and run them through Photoshop-like filters in real time. Several lenses are free, but a few like the ambiance of Tron cost 99 cents each.

Path announced Nike as its first API Partner to build Nike+ GPS to share runs in real time with friends.

Even though Path has not started advertising, ‘the inner circle’ social graph is potentially lucrative through advertising. As Frommer said:

The “inner circle” social graph could eventually — if enough people buy in — be worth a lot as a platform. Advertisers and other developers would LOVE to get into your inner circle, because it means the recommendations you make will be trusted more, and the connections you have are worth more.

In an age of 12-hour work days, personal commitments and a plethora of networks and apps, it is very difficult for new social ventures to get attention. People are already finding it difficult to juggle between Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

What can get users to sign up is a network that helps you deal with time and place constraints by accessing it anytime and anywhere. Path’s bet on the mobile did just that.

What makes it better is that Path makes sharing simple, seamless and fast. It also makes viewing simpler because of the friend restrictions, minimising the content on the news feed.
Facebook recognised the importance of mobile as well, which is why it is gradually changing its focus. Facebook Timeline and Timeline apps encourage frictionless sharing through ‘actions’ via mobile.

Path is certainly on the correct path on this front.

(MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

As an example, 50+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing and storytelling on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the iPad-friendly People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at pascal.beucler@mslgroup.com.)

Originally posted on People’s Lab : People’s Insights Blog

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