There’s a scrappy little startup, not yet two, barely an hour’s drive from Facebook’s headquarters in California, that’s giving Mark Zuckerberg and his team sleepless nights these days. OK, so it’s not that scrappy. Its claim to fame is a spiffy, mobile-only social network called Path, which recently crossed two million users and has been growing at a rapid clip since it first debuted in 2010. What does it do? It lets you post photos, share status updates and locations, what song you’re listening to and much more. Heck, there’s even a nifty little button that lets you tell people what time you went to bed and when you woke up. But wait. Isn’t that what Facebook is for?
According to its website, Path wants to be ‘the smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love.’ “Our long-term vision here is to build a network that is very high quality and that people feel comfortable contributing to at any time,” Path co-founder and CEO, Dave Morin, a former Facebook staffer, has said in interviews. Using Path is like being at a private get-together that has only your closest friends and family members in attendance. Facebook, in comparison, has started resembling a Page 3 party, where everyone knows each other only vaguely (and most smiles are plastic). Unlike Facebook, where everything is public by default (unless you are brave enough to navigate the labyrinth of privacy settings), you can lock down every post you make on Path with one simple tap of the finger (you can always cross-post selective updates to both Facebook and Twitter). And by the way, just to keep things close-knit, you can’t have more than 150 friends on Path. Yes, that’s a feature, not a bug.
The question is: do we need yet another social network?
Smooth and simple
MW magazine’s technology editor, Madhulika Mathur, has been using Path ever since it launched and is an avid user. “I don’t blog regularly, I don’t keep a diary and I have reduced my trips to Facebook. Path felt like this beautiful little app with a simple, intuitive interface for life journaling and that’s what appealed to me instantly,” she says. Mathur has just 40 friends on Path (she has over 500 on Facebook) and posts check-ins to new places, photos, music and thoughts at least twice a day. “I even have my resolutions in there, locked away from the world, of course. So I can look back and know when I resolved to start biking and how long have I not made good with it,” she laughs. “Or I can look back and know when I met friends for that special dinner.”
Mumbai-based technology enthusiast Rohan Bhade, 28, says that it was Path’s beautiful interface that blew him away. “It felt snappy and the layout was easy to understand. Connecting mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter was easy. I use Path as the primary place to post all updates and then selectively push them out to my Facebook or Twitter streams.”
What makes Path work is the innate simplicity, says Mathur. There are no circles to create (like Google Plus) and no confusing lists of family, friends and colleagues to maintain (like Facebook). "You share or you don’t share. That’s it. And the small group of people who are on my Path is the one I have shared interests with. They are not the people I am forced to acknowledge because we were friends at some time or are related in some distant way. These are people who are close and share my interest in technology, music and fitness," she says.
Path has also been designed from ground up to be a mobile experience unlike Facebook or Twitter, where the mobile experience feels tacked on to the main desktop websites (the Facebook app in particular is horrible). And while Facebook is all about seeing what everyone else is doing, Path largely puts you and your life in focus. "In that sense, it’s not really one more social network. Rather, it’s a supplement to the ones you’re currently using. That’s a point that’s hard to drive home to new users who often see it as ‘yet another place to broadcast my private life,’" says Bhade.
That said, Path still has teething troubles. On a non-3G/WiFi connection, it can often take unacceptably long to load; a feature that is supposed to automatically post your location when you move from one neighbourhood in the city to another never worked for us; and right now, only Android and iPhone users have the privilege of using it (a BlackBerry version is reportedly in the works). And because it’s still so new, chances are that the people who you do want to share your life with just haven’t signed up. "Most of my friends don’t have smartphones yet, so my posts didn’t have an audience. I got bored after two weeks", says college student Berges Malu.
Once these kinks are worked out, though, expect Path to make waves. Mark, giddy up!
It’s not just Path that’s hogging all the limelight. Other indie networks are catching users’ fancy like never before
Pinterest is a pinboard-style social networking site that seems to have sprung up from nowhere suddenly has over 10.4 million users. It lets you organise and ‘pin’ anything interesting you find on the Web – pictures, videos, text and more – on ‘boards’ based on specific topics. The social feature comes in with the ability to see what other users ‘pin’ and ‘re-pin’ it to their own boards in turn. More than 97 per cent of Pinterest users are women. Pinteresting!
Instagram is a popular photo-sharing app available on the iPhone and iPad, which just announced it has more than 27 million users. It allows you to quickly take pictures and turn them into frame-worthy images by applying upto 11
different filters (everything from retro to futuristic) and then sharing them with followers. You can also ‘follow’ people on Instagram and ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on their pictures. Sound familiar?
Just 150 friends?
Long before social networks even existed, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar came up with what is known as ‘Dunbar’s number’ – 150 (that’s the maximum number of friends you can have on Path). Dunbar claims that there is a relationship between the size of your brain and the size of your social circle. About 150, he says, is the number of people with whom you can have a stable social relationship on a one-on-one level
From HT Brunch, April 1
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