December 8, 2011

Finally, Social Tranquility

Refining Social Technology

This article has been cross posted on Big Fuel's blog - Content to Commerce.

There is no doubt that technology has enhanced our social relationships.

In a recent interview on the BBC, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that an open social network that allows people to share anything with anyone enriches our lives. Certainly this philosophy has created the world’s largest social network and one of its most valued companies.

But there is another viewpoint, one that I hold firmly.

Social technology has failed to mimic real human interaction. Social streams lack privacy, are polluted with irrelevant information and relationships are superficial. If I go out for dinner with my wife and daughter and wish to share the experience with my parents exclusively, the UX for most social networks makes that difficult to do. Despite my preference for privacy and targeted sharing, I will end up sharing the experience with half my social graph.

Then there’s the challenge of optimizing my feed to suit my interests: In real life I am a close friend of David’s. We are both obsessed with technology and the outdoors. David, however, also loves food and fashion. Whenever we are together, the conversation revolves around tech or outdoor adventure. But when we connect on social networks, I have to put up with his food and fashion content.

One of my favorite social entrepreneurs, @Caterina Fake, shares my point of view. “One problem with social software today,” she says, “is that everything is black and white: you either represent yourself as a single real-world self, or you don’t participate. And that requirement discards a lot of the nuances of human communication.”

Imagine social technology developed to simulate the many layers of human social behavior. Would we see a completely different level of digital relationship building? Perhaps more authentic? And what about engagement—how would the picture be painted? And what about the interplay for brands?

Enter Path

@Path is a smart journal that helps you share your life with close friends and family—the ones you love. I have had it for less than two days, but Path is changing my digital life. It’s the social networking service (SNS) that I have always wanted to build.

Path was launched in November 2010 by @DaveMorin, co-inventor of Platform and Connect at Facebook, Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster, and @DMierau co-creator of Macster, and is headquartered in San Francisco.

Path’s angel round raked in $2.5 million, and series A a hefty $8.65 million. But here’s the icing on the cake: In December ’10 @Google tried to buy Path for $100+ million. Path said no. @Arrington claimed Dave was crazy and said, “Only time will tell if it’s good crazy or bad crazy.” I am betting good crazy.

More on Path, check out the video below:

In Love with Path

Here are the three main reasons I love Path:
  • A new social graph: The app was built from the ground up to maintain privacy and encourage sharing with friends and loved ones. This is the first SNS that facilitates sharing life itself and in a private manner. Dave Morin encapsulates the application, “Our ultimate goal is to make it so when you open up Path it’s a very low-noise, high-intimacy experience.” The video below speaks my point:

  • User experience and design: Simply phenomenal. I don’t think I have seen an app or SNS with such a clean UI and intuitive user workflow. Path have completely removed the iPhone tab bar that lives on the bottom of the screen and replaced it with a plus sign that, when tapped, reveals content publishing options. Additionally, the timeline-like history of your moments and experiences is presented so gracefully. It’s a beautiful way to look at the history of my life.

Path: UX and Design
Path: UX and Design

  • Entry to the social graph: I have touched on this before and Path has nailed it down to perfection. Want to share content with your social circles on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Foursquare? Tap the icons, and content enters the graph. This also has an in-built marketing play for Path, as the content is labeled as originating from Path.

Social Graph

@Scobleizer recently interviewed Dave. It’s lengthy, but worth watching every minute.

Interview with Robert Scoble

Path’s Future

Soon after downloading the app, I was concerned about the possibility for a friend to Re-Path content, i.e. repost content from your feed to their own. I reached out to Dave Morin on Twitter.

His response:

I am excited to watch Path’s roadmap rollout. It will be interesting to see how new features can be developed without nullifying user privacy and the platform’s DNA—sharing life for those who mean the world to you.

The big question is how will Path generate revenue? Advertisements will consume valuable screen real estate and ruin the UI. In addition to their photo filters, perhaps Morin and his team can innovate additional in-app purchases.

Then the opportunity for brands to participate—how will they pull that off? Here’s my take: Just like there is a limit of friends (150) who can join your Path, there can be a limited number of brands that you can follow. Can you imagine being able to follow only 15 brands? It will create a truly enthusiastic fan base that the brand can rely on to engage and distribute content. Powerful!

At the time of writing I do not yet have any friends or family on Path. I have literally been testing out the app and writing a lot of notes. It’s been a peaceful journey. My stream (timeline) illustrates my day, the photos are displayed elegantly, and I am experiencing social tranquility. I am looking forward to adding family, and perhaps thereafter close friends.

I only hope the journey will remain serene, meaningful and private.

Michoel (@Twabbi).

P.S If you want to connect, forget about Path. Catch me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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