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On A Path To Nowhere

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Today, San Francisco-based startup, Path launched an eponymously titled app that allows you to privately share photos with 50 of the people closest to you. It doesn’t allow you to comment or do any of the things you normally associate with when sharing photos. You can tag them, but that is about it.

Path is the personal network.  The personal network doesn’t replace your existing social networks – it augments them. Capturing a moment on Path is simple and contextual. Simply take a photo with your camera on iPhone and add context around that moment in the form of tags for people, places and thing.  These tags provide 3 types of context which we think help capture a moment. Think of it as a place for the memories along your path through life. (Path Blog)

The problem this app is trying to solve: we have too many friends (on Facebook) and as a result we miss key moments we should share with some of the people who are closest to us. We miss their photos and their status updates, on Facebook or Twitter. It is supposed to be private and keeps those beautiful drunken moments of personal shame, well personal. Ironically, for first few minutes of its life, the company was exposing all these private pictures on S3.

Path, in theory, seems to be a great idea. In reality, when you step back and think about it, the idea of a restricted, personal network has the utility of a toy poodle. The problem of too many friends is one that afflicts those who are hyper-connected and who often confuse their Rolodex for friends. Most people can do many of these things with Facebook, and more.

I downloaded the iPhone app, tried it for about half an hour and found invitations from some of the same people who are in my other social networks and well they aren’t quite 50-of-my-closest friends. Nevertheless, I did accept their invitations, just so I can try out the Path.

The Path app, for what it is worth is cleanly designed, and is fairly easy to use and is intuitive. It makes it relatively easy to sign-up for the service and even taking and sharing pictures is relatively easy.

So far I have about 25 people who are sharing their Path’s with me. By tomorrow morning I will have another 50 and then I will have to make a judgment call about whose lives are interesting and with whom I want to share my personal joys and achievements.

Of course, the real story is that half-of-the-50-who-matter-to-me don’t have iPhones or even own smartphones. Yes… there are people like that, and some of them actually live in United States. (For them, Path suggests, using the website.)

Path is part of a growing number of applications that want us to use our smartphones and share photos and life moments. On the web, DailyBooth is a stupendous hit. And there is, which is gaining popularity with hipsters. There is Picplz, which recently raised gobs of money, and there are many waiting in the wings.

If history has taught anything, photo services are great ideas but terrible businesses. Many become popular, but in the end struggle to find a business model. Such fate awaits many of these companies, including Path, which is also bearing the additional weight of history. Back in 2004, Josh Felser started a private media-sharing network, Grouper. He had to pivot from the original before selling the company to Sony.

Nevertheless, I am amazed by the frenzy of press around this application. It is perhaps because the company has been co-founded by three well-known Silicon Valley insiders – Dave Morin (who headed up early Facebook Platform efforts), Shawn Fanning and Dustin Mierau. Fanning, in the past was associated with Napster, Snocap and Rupture. Along with these three celebrity founders, the company has a laundry list of well-known investors — so many that it is hard to list them.

The personalities, of course are meant to paper over the intellectual marginality. It takes a lot more than just a collection of investors for a web app to become a social platform with large audience with high engagement, and then for that social network to become an actual business.

Yup, it is a Path to nowhere!

25 Responses to “On A Path To Nowhere”

  1. stevegoodman

    completely agree. I think there is no future for path. Shawn fanning is a tech celebrity. I never understood how the other two — dave and dustin are???( I guess self proclaimed)

  2. I already do this with Facebook. I only friend close personal friends & family on Facebook. If there is something Id rather not share with someone on my Facebook with someone on my friend’s list, they wouldn’t be my friend. Will this really appeal to people with a bunch friends on FB? I dunno.

  3. The amount of attention this application received along with the MASSIVE amount of tweets, etc. yesterday really caught my attention. It was surprising to me given the content and model of the application itself?

    I continually ask myself these days as I read about new companies/products – what problem does this solve? People want to keep some of their photos private – this allows for this to occur with up to 50 people.

    That’s a problem for people? Ever heard of email? I have groups set up in my email accounts so I can send private photos to friends/family. Doesn’t Path require the email address? So, is it just a fancy layer?

    I have no doubt that the UI is beautiful given the talent and resources at their disposal. But, I don’t have an iPhone 4GS and nobody who would be considered a “close” friend or family does either.

    I wish them the best of luck. I think they’re going to seriously look at some changes to make this work as a business model.

  4. Only the usual suspects from the same inner bubble are deriding this app. So what if they got a lot of PR? Good for them!!! I bet that if this app would have been launched by a couple of unknowns the critics wouldn’t have been so harsh. There seems to be a tinge of envy here…

    I personally really love the elegance in design / UI they have put into it. The simplicity can be deceiving and thats the point. Use it for a couple of days and do really make an effort to add the people you really care about. Then rewrite a good objective opinion!

    Sorry OM, I am 99% inline with all your posts. Not this one, you pulled the trigger too early.

  5. I can see this being a brilliant small biz tool for photographers who want to privately show their work to a select group of pple for a short period of time. But they would have to retool it to have functionality that would matter to this group.

    As for personal networks – there are already so many tools that can do private sharing for photos (i know bc all my non-techy friends use them and send me – gasp – email links to the albums) so not really understanding what the value is.

  6. Is this even that big of a problem? Do people not share because they feel uncomfortable sharing a moment in time with the world? Everyday I’m more and more amazed to the extent that my Facebook friends (even the more private ones) are posting private moments to their Facebook newsfeed. Or do I really have that many moments that would make me use Path and not Instagram? Just not sure where Path fits into my life.

  7. Insular Silicon valley insider-ness gone totally insane.

    Built by valley millionaires, backed by valley billionaires, hyped by dinosaur media who share a common delusion – locking app to Apple hardware is the only “path” to success.

    REQUEST: Om needs to sit the founders and backers down, and ask the hard hitting questions, in person, preferably broadcast as live streaming video ( no scripted responses, no lawyers, no PR mouth pieces )

  8. I generally really like Om’s posts, but on this I have to ask: Why so downright negative/derisive? I also saw Rafit Ali’s tweet essentially calling this garbage. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, but this all seems kind of like high school. I say this because RockMelt launched a feature posing as a product, and (while Om rightfully called out the hype around investors rather than founders) overall there seemed to be less derision toward a product (RockMelt) that seems just as lightweight as Path simply because the investors/backers may be more popular. I smell personality politics. I could be wrong, but it just seems like Path is not worthy of such a harshing right out of the gate.