Former Facebook employee goes small-scale with Path

Nov 15, 2010
Tech

A new social network app hit the App Store today, but it isn’t about building a network of millions of friends like Facebook — instead, new kid Path limits its users to just 50 connections. It also simplifies social networking to photo sharing, one of (if not the) core component of using the Internet to […]

A new social network app hit the App Store today, but it isn’t about building a network of millions of friends like Facebook — instead, new kid Path limits its users to just 50 connections.

It also simplifies social networking to photo sharing, one of (if not the) core component of using the Internet to connect with friends.

Path creator and former Facebook developer Dave Morin said the idea is to create a more personal network, and currently that network deals only in photos, according to a report from the Associated Press. The free app employs users’ phone numbers when they sign in to allow friends to find them that way, and every time a photo is tagged with a person in it, Path gives the option to share with just that person, or with your whole network.

Overcoming privacy concerns

It seems like one of the goals for Path, especially in its early stages, is to be the answer to the recent Facebook privacy debates. One of the big holes in Facebook privacy for many people is the fact that any person can tag any other person in a photo. In fact, Facebook encourages this practice — it wants you to identify your friends and thereby spread photos of them out to as many people as you can. Facebook users have the ability to “untag” themselves from any photo, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever necessarily find an embarrassing or otherwise compromising photo on Facebook unless they’re looking for it.

The opposite is true for Path. Sharing is asymmetrical, as it is with services like Twitter: you might share with people, but that doesn’t mean they share with you. Although that doesn’t mean you can’t share and tag a photo that the person might not want you to share — but at least the fallout is limited to 50 friends and not 450, plus all of their friends and family, and anyone punching a name into Google.

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Still, if you’re asking yourself, “Why create Path now?” you’re not the only one. Sentiment throughout the mobile and social networking communities seems to range from, “hey, cool” to “why should I care about this?” Are people really clamoring for a more intimate photo-sharing network?

Photo sharing is the key

Well, it’s possible. Morin told the AP he noticed a lot of people have photos on their phones they’re not doing anything with, so part of the hope of Path was to give those photos a place to live. But it’s not just Path — there are tons of photo sharing app clients out there, such as Instagram.

It might be that Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and other established photo-sharing players just aren’t that great at being mobile. Fire up Facebook right now to upload a photo and the lack of options is almost confusing. You can upload a photo but you can’t manipulate it (so if you’ve got a shot with a funny orientation, you’re out of luck), and you can’t specify where that photo lives among your Facebook album. Instead, the image just goes on your wall and then falls in an album called “Mobile Uploads.”

The lack of much attention paid, in a general way, to the mobile photo sharing landscape by the big players leaves a lot of room for innovation. Whenever a user who’s also a programmer sees something that could be improved, that’s the inspiration for a new app, and a new network. With iPhone and other mobile phone cameras increasing in quality — and even iPod Touch getting a camera, even if it’s a terrible one — there are more photos out there, and potentially more people wishing they had a better way to share them.

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The gamble of Path is the idea that people have photos they want to share, but not necessarily with everyone on Facebook. Although it’s not unlikely that the fact that Facebook is reportedly worth $41 billion, had something to do with Morin’s hope to create a new social networking alternative. That’s a pie out of which lots of people would like to get a bite.

Totally unrelated news: iTunes announcement tomorrow

Hop over to Apple.com (AAPL) and you’ll be treated to a cryptic (and frankly somewhat arrogant) message about an announcement regarding iTunes due out tomorrow. The announcement comes tomorrow at 10 a.m. EST, but there’s no indication about what it will be — only that it concerns iTunes, and that it will apparently turn tomorrow into “a day you’ll never forget.”

We are still talking about computer software, right?

Anyway, speculation around the web is running the gamut from a streaming radio service to (totally moronically) disclosure of the rumored CDMA iPhone for Verizon (VZ). We’re also due for iOS 4.2 pretty much any time, so it’s possible a big new feature has been dropped into that update.

Hopefully it’s something cooler than Ping.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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