Sharing. It’s become an epidemic. Pictures, words, locations and more, presented to our friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers.
It’s refreshing, then, that one of the latest trends we’re monitoring is that of the closed, private network.
There’s an interesting thing happening that flows against the constant onslaught of “everything, everywhere,” where content explodes into the public cloud for us all to sift through. We’ve seen it in our own research at Feedback, where industry sub-groups lock doors behind them in private message boards and tiny social caves.
But we’ve also seen more and more built into web apps. One of the most obvious examples in my own life is Path.
Path was first just something we were checking out for Feedback, as we test and jostle and over-use all sorts of new apps on a regular basis. But Path has taken off in an interesting way. The concept is simple: a photo and video-sharing app that doesn’t aim to broadcast your media to the world, but instead focuses on a hand-picked group – an inner-circle of your friends, up to 50 people, that you’d like to share these “Moments” with. Path also carries some neat tricks such as different lenses, location and time-aware plotting. More recently, the “Stacks” feature organizes all of the photos by how you’ve tagged them with People, Places and Things.
I’ve observed two interesting phenomenon in Path: A voice for the introverted, and a personal fanclub.
First I noticed that some of the same people that would never (or rarely) share their every moment on Facebook were more comfortable on Path. Even more telling, they would use Path when they weren’t at home, where they might not signal on other social channels that they weren’t at home. They could do so on Path, because they were only telling the few people that knew they were gone anyway. I found it interesting that these same people never used the full 50 person limit. In fact my own Path barely uses 20 regulars – and I’m fine with that. I found myself revealing more intimate moments on Path. Things I wouldn’t be judged on or things I didn’t have to be concerned with the reaction of the outside world or that errant friend. On Path people would just as soon capture a quiet, fantastic moment of clarity as they would an artistic photo of two dozen Jell-o shots.
Which brings me to the second thing I saw happening: being allowed to see someone’s Path was like being in their fanclub. It is a privileged spot that gives the small audience a behind-the-scenes look at someone’s life. While you might see them remark on Twitter with a general “today was a big day,” on Path you’d get the shot of them getting ready for a job interview. While on Facebook I might post the friend-friendly shot of my daughter Addy on the beach, on Path I would post the less-cheesy but more interesting shot of her spending quality time with her grandfather.
It’s awesome to see my friends take the same – uh, path – in providing a look into the second layer of their life. Path goes beyond the more polished sheen of a person’s social life that is under more scrutiny by a large number of friends, followers and in some cases complete strangers.
Recent articles and conversations I’ve had with analysts muse that the reason many people hadn’t heard about Path was that those who use it don’t make it very public (and for a reason: if I let you know I’m on Path but I don’t want to share with you, that’s a deliberate snub). While it seemed like more of a PR dodge of the popularity question, I actually believe them. There was even a twinge of, “Should I?” before I wrote this blog post because to be frank, I’m not going to let most of the people who read this be in on my Path.
I’d love to see Path succeed and I think it has a long life ahead of it with added features and more depth. That said, if it ends up going away I won’t be shocked, as I fully expect someone to buy it up and mishandle it. That’s the startup way. Sometimes Path gets pitted against other photo-sharing apps like Instagram (a coworker and I frequently have staring contests about that matchup) but it’s really not trying to compete; sure it shares some image-alteration features, but Path’s aim is about handing you ways to create an exclusivity in your social life via the channel — not the placement of your media into a fatter pipe for filtering by others. Path filters at the front, from the perspective of the poster.
But the concept behind Path – the private social network – is certainly not going away. We see it living out on Facebook in private groups and the stricter use of Friends Lists, for example. The inclination to share is being encouraged from all corners, but the “with whom” will become a more important question.