On A Path To Nowhere

Today, San Francisco-based startup, Path launched an eponymously titled app that allows you to privately share photos with 50 of the people closest to you. It doesn’t allow you to comment or do any of the things you normally associate with when sharing photos. You can tag them, but that is about it.

Path is the personal network.  The personal network doesn’t replace your existing social networks – it augments them. Capturing a moment on Path is simple and contextual. Simply take a photo with your camera on iPhone and add context around that moment in the form of tags for people, places and thing.  These tags provide 3 types of context which we think help capture a moment. Think of it as a place for the memories along your path through life. (Path Blog)

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. We miss their photos and their status updates, on Facebook or Twitter. It is supposed to be private and keeps those beautiful drunken moments of personal shame, well personal. Ironically, for first few minutes of its life, the company was exposing all these private pictures on S3.

Path, in theory, seems to be a great idea. In reality, when you step back and think about it, the idea of a restricted, personal network has the utility of a toy poodle. The problem of too many friends is one that afflicts those who are hyper-connected and who often confuse their Rolodex for friends. Most people can do many of these things with Facebook, and more.

I downloaded the iPhone app, tried it for about half an hour and found invitations from some of the same people who are in my other social networks and well they aren’t quite 50-of-my-closest friends. Nevertheless, I did accept their invitations, just so I can try out the Path.

The Path app, for what it is worth is cleanly designed, and is fairly easy to use and is intuitive. It makes it relatively easy to sign-up for the service and even taking and sharing pictures is relatively easy.

So far I have about 25 people who are sharing their Path’s with me. By tomorrow morning I will have another 50 and then I will have to make a judgment call about whose lives are interesting and with whom I want to share my personal joys and achievements.

Of course, the real story is that half-of-the-50-who-matter-to-me don’t have iPhones or even own smartphones. Yes… there are people like that, and some of them actually live in United States. (For them, Path suggests, using the website.)

Path is part of a growing number of applications that want us to use our smartphones and share photos and life moments. On the web, DailyBooth is a stupendous hit. And there is Instagr.am, which is gaining popularity with hipsters. There is Picplz, which recently raised gobs of money, and there are many waiting in the wings.

If history has taught anything, photo services are great ideas but terrible businesses. Many become popular, but in the end struggle to find a business model. Such fate awaits many of these companies, including Path, which is also bearing the additional weight of history. Back in 2004, Josh Felser started a private media-sharing network, Grouper. He had to pivot from the original before selling the company to Sony.

Nevertheless, I am amazed by the frenzy of press around this application. It is perhaps because the company has been co-founded by three well-known Silicon Valley insiders – Dave Morin (who headed up early Facebook Platform efforts), Shawn Fanning and Dustin Mierau. Fanning, in the past was associated with Napster, Snocap and Rupture. Along with these three celebrity founders, the company has a laundry list of well-known investors — so many that it is hard to list them.

The personalities, of course are meant to paper over the intellectual marginality. It takes a lot more than just a collection of investors for a web app to become a social platform with large audience with high engagement, and then for that social network to become an actual business.

Yup, it is a Path to nowhere!