26.01.2012 Path: The golden new way for social networking?
New social network Path focuses on quality of connections rather than quantity. With a limit of 150 connections, what will this focus on more exclusive circles mean for our social networking habits and for professional communicators? How do you measure your social media activity at the moment? Whether you’re managing social media for an organisation or merely observing your own personal audience, it’s more than likely that number of – and growth in – connections features somewhere in your metrics. And just when we all get used to counting connections, on the basis that quantity equals a wider audience for our messages, along comes an intriguing new social network that should make us reconsider whether it’s quantity – or quality – that really counts. Inspired by British anthropologist and Oxford professor Robin Dunbar, Path limits the number of social connections a user can have to 150 people. This is widely considered the upper limit of the number of trusted relationships a person can have, and is a direct function of our biology. Since its re-launch last year, Path has experienced a 30-fold increase in the number of daily users, according to its creators. And  what a team of creators it boasts. The platform was Founded by Dave Morin, previously Co-Inventor of Platform and Connect at Facebook, along with Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster, and Dustin Mierau co-creator of Macster. Explaining the philosophy behind Path, Vice President Matt Van Horn said: “Facebook changed the world. People were themselves for the first time, putting their real name on the Internet, and then connecting with every person they had ever met. But we really believe the next generation of social is going to be personal.” And there’s the key. In a world where we are bombarded with digital information – tweets, pictures, links, videos – is Path the answer to social media fatigue? Are we about to move away from building connections and focus on maintaining more meaningful ones? It’s easy to see the appeal of Path, which makes social updating more personal again. Think about it. If somebody posts a picture of their new baby on Facebook, most people outside a core of close genuine friends aren’t really going to care very much. On the other hand, in a smaller network where their mother, perhaps on the other side of the country, sees that picture, that becomes a magical moment. The principle behind Path, based on anthropological science, is clearly thought out and has definite appeal – particularly to those still nervous of delving into the world of Twitter or Facebook. As a far more personal way of sharing information with a self-selected small group, it is almost the anti-Facebook. This is illustrated by the fact that the typical Path user has five to ten connections.

What else do we think will make Path successful?

Firstly, it’s an exclusively mobile app based network, so only exists where its users physically are. With the explosion of smartphone based social engagement, Path is taking a similar approach to Instagram which is so successful because it can be accessed quickly to make an update in short bursts of time over the course of a day, reducing the risk of fatigue. Secondly, it’s not at all intrusive. The app features a special ‘awake/sleep’ button not only so friends know when you’re out of bounds but so notifications are switched off too. The notifications are also far fewer because the network is so close-knit. Thirdly, Path aims to be a beautifully simple way for groups of friends and family to share experiences. It’s not designed to be a place for brands, advertising or promotions – in fact the creators have stated clearly that ads will not be considered. This removes the ‘clutter’ of traditional social networking, but obviously poses a challenge to marketers/brand communications types (which I’ll come to later). Finally, Path is an absolute joy to use. The iPhone app allows you to share text, location, pictures, thoughts, music and video with your connections and maps your timeline as your own personal ‘path’. It is beautifully designed, incredibly intuitive to use and has a gorgeous interface that beats any Twitter or Facebook client hands down. Just like FlipPad for the iPad, it makes the social networking experience enjoyable. So in the absence of commercial advertising, will they monetise it? Well, although the app is free, users must pay for some features. For instance, it has taken Instagram’s best feature and improved on it; pictures can be filtered through a variety of lovely retro and futuristic filters, and additional filters can be purchased for a small cost. From within the app, pictures can be shot instantly through a selected filter which is a nice touch. Another handy feature is being able to post what music you are listening to and when a friend clicks on that track/album they are played a preview and given the option to buy it on iTunes. The geo-location feature has taken the principles of Foursquare and Facebook Places and again, improved on it with a very simple check-in process. It’s difficult to predict what the next generation of social networking will look like, but Path whispers a hint of what the future could look like. It offers personal communication and real, tangible relationships. As communicators we shouldn’t fear this new type of social networking.
We believe there is a lot to be learned from Path – namely, the importance of making personal, meaningful connections with the people that matter to us.