Sustainable Social Networking: Path
A More Detailed Exploration:
Why do you need yet another social network platform? That’s a really good question, since Facebook is such a dominant, ubiquitous presence and Twitter is the world’s most active information network.
When Path launched, I was impressed with their clever marketing video and knew enough about Dave Morin, co-founder, to at least check it out. So, I downloaded the app and gave it a quick test. I liked the elegant simplicity of the design and function, but put it aside since I didn’t want to devote any more time to yet another social network platform.
In the first moments I used it, the two biggest things that stood out were its focus on visual elements and the limit it placed on the number of people you can follow – 50. I love taking and sharing iPhone pictures (I use the Twitter2Flickr to push photos to Twitter) and I have been conservative in the number of people I connect with on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, so I seemed to be a good fit for Path.
But after the initial test drive, Path sat on my iPhone unused for a number of weeks until I read the Jason Calacanis story about Path and his three question interview of Dave Morin. What caught my attention was how Path has been built using the insights of Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at Cambridge. Yes, Robin Dunbar of the Dunbar number. (He’s since written an op-ed in the New York Times assailing Facebook and praising Path).
I’m a lifelong student of the human mind, thanks to my grandfather and father being psychiatrists, so this tidbit about Dunbar naturally piqued my interest. About two weeks later, I met Dave Morin in person after seeing him first at the No Labels launch event and later that same evening at charity:water’s charity:ball. I took advantage of this chance encounter to talk at relative length (for a cocktail party) about Dunbar’s insights beyond the famous 150. What he shared opened my mind wider to the importance and sustainability of Path. What follows is my best attempt at summarizing the conversation and subsequent research – if I erred let me know and we can fix it.
Not 150, but 1.5/5/15/50/150
It turns out that human beings operate with a small number of persistent strong relationships and a highly dynamic sets of weaker relationships throughout their lifetime. While Malcolm Gladwell helped engrain the Dunbar 150 into people’s mind, his research is much more robust than that.
The 150 refers to the upper limit of our mental rolodex at any given time, but that’s only the beginning. The 150 as a whole are very dynamic with 100 of the 150 changing frequently over time. Think of the barista who serves you your daily latte, that guy at the corner store, and co-workers who aren’t close to you.
Out of those 150, we each have 50 people that we can keep relatively stable relationships with over time and interact in more meaningful ways than the other 100. While you might not see them every day or week of your life, you have a special bond with them that persists over time.
Of the 50, you have 15 people who you have a more intimate connection with – these are the people you could spend a weekend with on vacation or visiting. You’ve shared some meaningful experiences with them and spending time with them helps fill your emotional tanks.
In our lifetime, we have 5 BFFs. We might not talk with them every week, month, or year, but we’d drop everything if they needed our help. Think of your favorite college roommate, childhood best friend, or the like. These 5 BFFs likely represent different eras of your life and were someone who went thru some intense experiences with you.
The innermost of intimate relationships is represented by the number 1.5. This is because men as a general rule can only maintain one highly intimate relationship, while women can keep two (her significant other and her best female friend). Anyone who’s married or dating can attest to this phenomenon.
Three Significant Insights from the 1.5/5/15/50/150 Circles
Aside from better understand human behavior, why does this mean I need to use Path? Patience, I’m getting there. Here are three foundations for why I’m using it:
- You feel more alive with people in your 50 – Think for a moment between how talking with your best friend from college makes you feel versus striking up a conversation with your friendly barista. It’s likely that you could talk with the former for what seems like minutes but is actually hours. You walk away feeling more alive and enriched than with less intimate relationships.
- We will share different things with people in each sphere of intimacy – I like to think of Facebook and Twitter as large public gatherings – we act and say things there just as we do at cocktail parties. We’re acting in ways to posture ourselves that we wouldn’t do in more intimate settings.
- Over time, the 50 dwindles while the 150 remains stable – This is to say, we forge a finite amount of stable, intimate relationships. While we can easily replenish the fleeting, superfluous relationships, the more enriching relationships are fewer and farther between. You only get some many chances to strike these bonds – most often earlier in life.
That’s Nice, but What Else is There?
Path insists that it’s not a social network, but a personal network. I agree. To me, Path is having my friends and family over for a dinner party, while Facebook and Twitter are like going to hang out at the shopping mall where I’ll run into people I know and meet new people. While I can have private conversations with my friends and family there, it’s not the same.
At launch, Path only allowed you to share iPhone photos and labeling them using three categories: people, places and things. Since then, they’ve added video (up to 10 second snippets) to the mix with the same three categories. In talking with Dave Morin, I understand their roadmap includes more robust features, each with a specific sphere in mind. That is to say, you can share more intimate moments/pictures/videos/text with those who are closer to you in real life.
My Experiences So Far
Since most people I know are weary to jump onto another social network platform, my experiences to date have been with just a few active users – namely Brad J. Ward, Jeff Slobotski and Justin Keller – and the rest who are waiting and watching (you know who you are). Hopefully, more will jump on board and experience for themselves, too. Despite this limited network, Path’s design really stands out for me for a few different reasons.
Limiting the updates to pictures and videos makes it easy to digest quickly. No lengthy blog posts or inefficient words – just visual images with limited amounts of text to muck it up. Even if you add a photo or video later, it will put into your stream at the correct point of the timeline.
Different Sharing Behaviors
Since you are dealing with just the people inside your 50, I find myself more willing to share things I might not share elsewhere and even my exact location. I’ve also noticed the other people in my 50 sharing more of their kids and family moments than they do on Twitter and Facebook. I sure am.
Built for Mobile Devices
The app is the experience, not the website. Path is built as a mobile device driven experience – fully integrated with your iPhone camera (still and video), integrating your GPS coordinates, and a really nifty comment feature that lets you send a SMS message to the person with your private message. It has the LBS features baked directly into it, not reverse engineered.
Less Public Posturing
Since we’re dealing with our inner 50 relationships, Path doesn’t play off the public posturing that open commenting, voting, liking or meaningless mayorships feed off of. Instead, you share intimate moments on your path of life with the people you want to have real, meaningful relationships over time. Since only 50 people can see what you’re doing, you can be yourself and more at ease.
Still Not Convinced? Consider This
Review your Facebook and Twitter interactions. How many people do you @ reply or direct message on a regular basis? For those you interact with on a more frequent basis, aren’t those interactions the ones that make you feel more alive? Just imagine if you had a personal network where those interactions occurred on a regular basis, not just every so often. That’s Path.
And think for a moment about those times when you feel “social media burnout” and what causes that feeling. Those times come about when you put large amounts of energy into monitoring and updating your social media accounts without getting the emotional feedback from people in your Inner 50.
But What Do I Know?
You could argue that I was predisposed to Path and its architecture, since I’m more inclined to go with quality relationships than number of relationships. I just need the right 50 people to read this blog, for instance, not the masses.
I’m not saying that Path will win out, but I am saying its architecture will. Why? Because it’s designed to take advantage of innate social behaviors and principles, not artificially manufacture new ones.
So what do you think? Willing to give Path a try? Do you have different thoughts about Path?