November 15, 2010

Does an Invisible Path Draw Intrigue or Fatigue?

As most tech insiders know, one of the more anticipated stealth startups, Path, unveiled itself to the world last night. Founded by respected Valley names with pedigrees from Facebook and Napster, and funded by a long, yet elite, list of active angel investors, the service launched on iPhones, presenting the concept of sharing photos with a smaller network of one's closest friends. This concept, a more intimate social circle, runs contrary to the "bigger, better, more" mentality of today's leading Web services, and has some appeal to those inundated by off-topic connections from friends on the periphery.

While the knee-jerk reaction to something like Path is to ask "why?", as in "why do we need yet another simple photo sharing service?", it's often the trivial and mundane concepts which get traction. The initial response of "why?" led to Twitter and Foursquare and so on, as the more intellectual pursuits that were noteworthy challenges had less success getting steam. I may want to find more places to learn and be challenged, but there's obviously a huge market for the casual and simple.

Path Photos from Drew and Robert

Path is notable for its limits. 50 people. If you hit 51, you drop somebody in the list, and from what I've read, they know about it. The concept of exclusivity drives intrigue - as people want to know if you really are BFF with those people you thought you were. But also limited, at least on day one? The platform. Path is an iPhone only service, and you can't even run the application on the very latest iPod Touch, let alone Android.
"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."
-- Om Malik
I made a personal decision to switch to Android away from iPhone, and bought an iPod Touch to test apps, like Path, that were made for the iOS platform. 9 times out of 10, that's not an issue. But Path, for whatever reason, detects if the device is an iPhone, and won't sync otherwise. So if you thought the service was limited in terms of scope or in terms of numbers, the limited platform ensures scarcity. The question becomes, as scarcity continues, will it drive demand, or annoyance?

Path Won't Go on My iPod, So I'm Out of the Game for Now

I like the guys behind Path. I think they've made great products together. I like the guys who I have seen already sharing their photos with me, as I teasingly have a read-only version of the service from the Web. But so far, I will have to be shown even more before I am a full believer. This looks like a test once and check in on occasionally type of app. There is definitely a hole out there for an intimate network of your closest friends. I just don't know if photo sharing is that start, and don't know if it will have value for me once it hits a platform I use.

For smart folks who get Path, see:
   Drew Olanoff: The “Intimate Social” Revolution
   Om Malik: On A Path To Nowhere

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