Last week, at the second PandoMonthly event, Sarah Lacy interviewed Path’s CEO and co-founder Dave Morin in front of a packed crowd at Mandrone Studios in San Francisco. The interview was enjoyable in its relaxed tone and Morin’s willingness to speak frankly on a number of subjects, including Path’s privacy issues. However, what I found interesting was Morin’s perspective on how Path differentiates itself from Facebook, a subject regular UNTETHER readers might know we’re quite fond.
In the interview, Morin equated Facebook to laying the foundation of the global social graph
– the cities and the town squares – while Path’s intent was to build the homes – a place for your friends and family. All well and good, but what does this have to do with Britney Spears? Exactly.
To further set the context, I’ve posted Morin’s verbatim comments below.
We’ve always thought of Path as a journal… I’ve always thought of it as your path through life.
We built Facebook to be this big, broad identity platform. It’s a social network: a place where you go to socialize with friends. You socialize in some smaller groups and some bigger groups, but it’s mostly a social network.
It’s not designed for family, it’s not designed to be something good for your neighbourhood, It’s not designed to help you meet people that are near you. We built Facebook out to be a huge social network, and we know how everyone is connected.
I actually believe there’s a huge opportunity to build things on top of that now. What we’re trying to do is for family, and your closest friends, and that’s sort of horizontal. We’re not interested in acquaintances, we’re not interested in building anything to help you talk to tens of thousands of people. We’re only interested in building your family dinner table. Facebook built the cities and town squares, we’re trying to build the homes.
Of course, Morin helped build the cities and town squares of Facebook, so his analysis of the social giant is spot on. His positioning of Path also makes sense in this context, and reinforces what my partner Rob Woodbridge claimed was the most compelling aspect of using the application on our Path podcast: building a mobile friendly document of your life that can be easily shared with your close friends and family.
Which is why Path’s integration of Nike+ and the Gracenote powered Music Match feature are seamless and obvious additions to service. If Facebook is about seeing what your social graph is doing, Path is about what you are doing, and sharing that with the people that matter most. Which is why any service that adds more relevant personal information into your Path ‘journal’ is a useful addition, whether it’s your latest run or your favourite new song. If Path can add enough compelling ‘personal data’ services, it may also solve the growth issue I highlighted on our podcast. Path may not be the app that you’re forced to join because all your friends are on it (i.e. Facebook), and it may not be an app that does any one thing better than feature specific services (i.e. Twitter, foursquare, Instagram), but if it becomes the most compelling way to capture your social presence over time, people will use it.
Taking this into account, my mind was mildly blown when Morin confirmed that not only had Britney Spears visited the Path offices, they had talked about ways in which Spears could engage her fan base using Path (apparently, Spears is considering using her Path account as a ‘VIP club’ for fans). Now, in no way am I trying to disparage Mrs. Spears, or her social savviness and desire to better connect with fans. I also have to credit Path for its willingness to experiment with new ideas or engage with recognizable brands.
The problem is that, even if wildly successful (cut to Rob salivating over the prospect of following The Boss on Path), such a development goes against the core ideology behind Path, and is thus at best a needless distraction, and at worst a harmful dilution of the app’s identity in the face of competition from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Path is a highly personal experience, and the addition of elements outside of that personal experience is jarring and breaks the narrative of Path as one’s social ‘home’. I would no sooner expect my favourite celebrities to appear in my Path timeline than I would in my own home. Besides, as Morin himself notes, there are already places for those types of experiences.
So please Path, put a bullet in the Britney Spears experiment, and spend that time focusing on integrating better ways for your users to fill their journal.