Welcome to the new social – hyper public sharing, but privately. Path.


Here are my thoughts, analysis and suggestions around the experience, philosophy and direction.


Here is how Gizmodo describes this, who I think summarizes it best: Imagine a social network that combines the voyeurism of Facebook with the visual intimacy of Instagram, the real-time newsreel of Twitter with the exclusiveness of a backyard barbecue. It exists. It’s Path!



The idea is simple – how can you balance the tension of: sharing many different elements (photos, location, music, who you are with, comments, time, mood, etc.) while on the move without everyone in your large social network having to know all of this (friends, family, acquaintances, strangers)?

You can either:

1. Retain your social network and tune the privacy settings to make sure the right elements are shared with the right people at the right time (or)

2. Trim your social network and not worry about complicated privacy settings etc. while on the go.

Takeaway: Facebook (via Groups) and even Google+ (via Circles) is working hard on #1, which is a very complex problem, since it is nearly impractical to know who is in which group/circle and/or who all you want to share with. So, everyone goes back to ‘public sharing (share with all)’ by default.

Path is working on #2, and an easier problem to solve, since the group is constrained by default. So, everyone’s sharing will be ‘private’ by default; while Path can innovate on more elements to share and on richer and smarter UI.

What is Path? How did it evolve?

Path started from “mobile photo sharing” application; evolved into yet another interesting “private social network” application on the iPhone marketplace; and has moved now into a very popular “smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love” application, with rave reviews of its design, on both the iPhone and Android marketplace.

Path says it chose the 50-user limit based on the research of Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. His research suggests that the maximum number of social relationships we can sustain is around 150 and that the rough limit for personal networks is around 50 people. “These are the people we trust, whom we are building trust with, and whom we consider to be the most important and valued people in our lives,” the company wrote in its introductory blog post. Their 1st version had a cap of 50 and now their 2nd version is at 150.

Who founded Path? Who is funding it?

Founded by Shawn Fanning, Dustin Mierau – both ex-Napster and Dave Morin, ex-Apple, ex-Facebook. Specifically, Dave brings in the combination of design, marketing along with web-based platforms and social network capabilities to Path. They have about 8.5m funding (funded Jan 2011), along with longer-term investment interests from Kleiner Perkins and Index Ventures.

Takeaway: Great pedigree, well-funded, very popular, everyone loves an underdog (compared to Facebook), and sitting on a good idea. I see them growing in strength over time, perhaps like Facebook, but I also wonder how they can monetize and grow into a major private social network at the same time.

What are the key aspects that Path is focusing on?

Path uses phrases like below, which gives a sense of their current value propositions/product goals:

§ “slightly social, not fully social”

§ “journal, personal life’s journal”

§ “sharing the mundane, the everyday; without having to worry about being perfect, as in Facebook”

§ “very personal, creating a private place”

§ “it’s all about choice, so if you want privacy, come to Path”

§ “it is a private social network, but for your journal”

§ Huge focus on:

o Design. They call themselves a “design organization” first.

§ the tiniest of things; the circular buttons that pop from the +, which turns into an x

§ the clock

§ “simplicity (of design) takes time”, “high quality design takes time”

o Fun Analytics.

§ Who within your private group has seen the picture (called ‘seen it’)

§ Who came to your ‘path’

Takeaway: Based on reviews, interviews with Path’s Dave, it is evident that they are going to continue to push hard on the fact that people are highly interested in sharing a lot more but privately or within a smaller group. “Frictionless sharing”, as Facebook’s Zuckerberg calls it and is pushing for widely within Facebook, is being challenged by Path as something that will only work within a limited circle of friends and/or family.

Biggest distinction between Facebook and Path?

§ Path calls Facebook the ‘real identity to the web’; ‘the Driver’s License of the internet’; ‘robust identity platform that is public by default’.

§ Path calls themselves the ‘network that uses Facebook’ to deeply share and connect with family & close friends; ‘the everyday easy journal that captures your music, your location, your photos & videos, your notes, — your life’.

Takeaway: Path may be a good idea and well-designed; but it still needs the likes of Facebook (a la Zynga) to grow its user base, to get real identities (since it is all about ‘trusted people’ within a ‘very trusted environment’). Facebook may absorb this technology or could create a similar suite within its service.


§ “Freemium” model – monetizing filters/music within the free application. Essentially, trying to still find ways to charge for better ways to manage content or help gather richer content.

§ Talks of “Ads” as a distant 2nd choice.

Takeaway: Freemium’s potential of a viable long-term monetization instrument remains questionable. Some companies have been successful with this, while for many startups it doesn’t work. In Path’s case, it is even more challenging, since Path doesn’t really own any content, the users generate it and own it. Path, in simple terms, just provides an easy mechanism to share and display the content that users generate. How many users would want to pay for a service that reorders and makes pretty visualizations with their data? I think, not many. Even in Flipboard’s case, a visually appealing product, but free until now.

Metrics – Users, Usage

§ Known numbers include: crossing 1 million users (this isn’t that rapid, yet)

§ The app ranks in the top 25 in the Apple App Store (this is quite an achievement)

§ DAU are in the higher 100s of thousands (which is very commendable)

Takeaway: In the short-term, I feel Path will be as popular and successful as Foursquare – yes, I am being abstract here. Because in real numbers, Foursquare isn’t a runaway hit, but they have one of the most recognizable LBS service, the most talked about features (mayorships), and the most potential for business models (tie-ups with retailers). Unless Path finds an unobtrusive way to gain users, without users feeling the pressure of being on yet another social network, it will be difficult for them to attract users at a rapid pace.

Path’s key challenges include

§ to attract users rapidly

§ to then get them invite a group of friends or family to build their private social network

§ to then delight them with easy ways to share multiple elements (status, location, music, etc.)

§ find a suitable partner who can provide with richer content (music, videos, etc.) for their service

§ creating ‘value’ for their users (what is in it for the users, why should they use it)

There is still a need to think deeper and harder on what the ‘true value’ is for the users over the long term. Seamless sharing within a private network may itself sound like the ‘value proposition’, but I think this is only the means, whereas the end is not yet clearly defined. 


[1] Path website https://www.path.com/

[2] Huffington review http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/26/path-review-app-social-network_n_1169893.html

[3] iTunes descriptions http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/path/id403639508?mt=8

[4] Elezea Design reviews http://www.elezea.com/2011/12/google-path-ui-design/

[5] Design & Dev reviews http://thenextweb.com/dd/2011/12/04/look-out-tab-bar-get-ready-for-paths-sharing-ui-to-be-everywhere/

[6] ZDNet’s fav SN of 2011 http://www.zdnet.com/blog/feeds/how-path-became-my-favorite-social-app-of-2011/4440

[7] Dan Morin interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6exIJaO1iI

[8] Venture beat http://venturebeat.com/2010/11/15/path-launches-photo-sharing-social-network-focused-on-quality-connections-not-quantity/

[9] Gizmodo Coverage http://gizmodo.com/5872488/the-social-network-that-stole-christmas

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