As the world becomes ever-more-saturated in social media, the court of public opinion grows only more sensitive. Retweets can propel an errant thought to meme-like levels of notoriety, while a mismanaged Google+ post can set your circles aflutter. Yes, managing one’s online self-expression isn’t what it used to be.
Path, the small, smartphone app-based social network created by former Facebook employee Dave Morin, wanted to turn that dynamic on its head. Instead of trying to “make the world a more open place” a la Zuckerberg, Path limits your connections to just 150 of your closest friends — people who wouldn’t make snap judgements about you. The result, says Morin, is a less edited version of your digital self, and a more authentic experience with your closest friends and family members.
“Our goal is to create an experience that’s trustworthy, warm and loving,” Morin says.
While that approach may be comforting, it doesn’t lend itself to viral levels of user adoption. The company reached the 1 million user mark earlier this year. It’s a significant number of adopters in some contexts, though still a drop in the bucket when compared to services like Facebook and Twitter.
But one year later, Path is beginning to come out of its shell. The company released Path 2 on Wednesday, a revamped version of the original application stuffed with more features, and a completely new user interface. While still focused on truly personal connections, the re-imagined app allows for more selective sharing than the previous version.
In essence, Path 2 is what the company is calling a “smart journal,” all based on the premise of curating one’s collection of moments that make up a single day. And like any good journal, it’s yours to keep to yourself, or to share at will.
It’s not entirely different from Facebook’s recent Timeline revamp — the giant social network’s approach to telling “your life story” via Facebook. But instead of chronicling days throughout a lifetime, Path focuses on “moments” throughout a day — those brief instances that may center on a location-based check-in, taking an Instagram-able snapshot, or writing a personal note to save for later.
“We believe in the mobile phone as a very personal device,” Morin says. “There’s been an explosion of personal data — what you eat, where you go, who you’re with — that have come with these devices that are always with us, always in our pockets.”
The company’s initial app stumbled a bit — in part because coding for smartphones is a very different ballgame relative to creating web applications. Unlike in web programming, where a company can release in beta and tweak as it goes, apps submitted to Apple’s App Store require an approval process that can take anywhere from days to weeks. That’s frustrating for developers, who are forced to wait to upload any patches. More importantly, it’s frustrating for customers who aren’t happy with a buggy app release.
“You just can’t iterate like you could on the web the same way for mobile,” Morin says. “We expect an app like we expect a package, completely wrapped up and polished upon delivery.”
And this is in part explains why Path has been so quiet for much of 2011. Outside of small incremental updates, the app didn’t change drastically in its first year of release.
The first version of Path, while still focused on the intensely personal, lacked a robust feature set. The company tried launching the aptly titled companion app, “With,” which broadcast personal updates to the people with whom Path users were interacting. But Twitter and web app integration essentially let everyone with a data connection know where you were, and who you were with, defeating the whole point of the “personal” network.
Path 2 integrates the idea of “With” into a broader feature set, though still keeps broadcasting optional. By fully integrating with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, you can let anyone — or no one — know who you’re with and where you’re at a given moment. And as other users in the network see your activities, they can both comment on them as well as emote a feeling. More than just “liking,” Path emotions include sadness, surprise, happiness and of course, love.
You can also share what music you’re listening to, and, via iTunes integration, listen to samples of the tracks your friends are playing, all through the app itself.
The new version is a great deal prettier than V1, as well. Morin and company seem to have taken another lead from Facebook’s Timeline, allowing users to set a “cover” photo, essentially anchoring the entire screen. Or to put it as Morin does, it’s like a wallpaper for your own Path.
Version 2 also includes a new feature, “Automatic,” which uses GPS and a combination of other technologies to immediately recognize moments of interest. So, say, you cross the bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. “Automatic” will update your Path with the news that you’ve moved from one area to another. Or if you leave San Francisco and end up in Manhattan six hours later, the app will recognize that you’ve most likely traveled by airplane, and will record as much on your Path. Of course, for the truly private, it’s a fully opt-out feature.
But ideally, if you’re using Path like Morin envisions it, you wouldn’t want to opt out anyway. Path is about sharing our daily details with our closest friends, people we would want to know our whereabouts. And by extension of their knowing, we insert ourselves into their lives, however slightly.
“It’s about staying in someone’s life every single day,” says Morin. “That’s love.”