San Francisco start up Path has release their new eponymously named app, Path, hoping to solve our problem of simply having too many friends on Facebook. According to their own blog, they claim that, “Path is the personal network. The personal network doesn’t replace your existing social network—it augments them.” What this means is that it has no intention or capability to compete with Facebook or Twitter; it just wants to be useful to (mainly) those who use their Smartphone to update their social network page.
What it will let you do is share your photos with up to 50 of your Facebook friends. By sharing your photos with a limited number of people, you can minimize the impact of some random person like a coworker from your last job seeing drunken pics of you from Friday night. However, if you feel you have 50 friends you can share those pics with, that probably means you consider all your Facebook “friends” to be actual friends, a common problem with hyper-connected people who don’t realize they should really manage their privacy to begin with, instead of just accepting every friend request they get. Thus, the Path app doesn’t actually get rid of the problem if you are not screening your page appropriately anyway.
Another drawback is that some people who would use it as intended—to keep their photos private and only share them with a few people—may find their initial excitement dampened by the fact that you cannot place comments on your photos using Path. In fact, most things people can normally do with their photos using Facebook are not possible using Path; basically all you can do is tag. Unfortunately, if you didn’t feel like you had to get hundreds of friends because you managed your rolodex—the type of person who would download Path—you have to make a choice between being able to do stuff to your pics that everyone will see, versus having the ability to restrict your photos, but being able to express yourself less. It’s not that great an option.
Path is trying to brand the app as a kind of sentimental way to document, “…your path through life” (from their own blog), right from your Smartphone to your (50) best friends. But the reality is that it won’t make a lick difference to many. If you are the hyper-connected sort who can’t live without posting your every thought, you’ll probably end up using it much the same way you do now with the photo options in Facebook, negating the essential point of the app (restriction). I mean, what’s to say you won’t find 50 more friends to share your photos with? It’ll just make it easier because you’ll be able to employ your Smartphone to help you over-expose yourself. If you like the idea of more privacy, you’ll have to give up some of the features you’re already used to in Facebook. If you don’t have a Smartphone, I’m not sure what use Path will be to you.
Path’s creators miscalculated by thinking that all the app had to do was help you limit who sees your photos. If it wants to be a personal network, Path will have to be able to offer users much more in terms of actual privacy and desirable functions.