Beyond Facebook: Facebook, Napster Forefathers & A Whole Lot of Investors Launch New Network, Path

What if your social network was made to stay small? What if its privacy settings worked like Facebook’s used to? What if that seductive but false promise made by so many spam advertisers, “see who looks at your profile” actually became possible?

Those are a few of the fundamental qualities of Path.com, the new social network launched tonight by former Facebook Platform Manager Dave Morin, Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning and a blinding cast of star investors. After nearly a year in stealth-mode development, the service looks very different from how it looked when ReadWriteWeb got a sneaky peek scoop of what Path looked like in February. The new Path is very different and sounds like it could be a contender – even though the list of “missing” features is very long at launch.


Path’s Dave Morin, photo by company investor Joi Ito

Features

Path used to be called Path.io and it was said to be all about social list creation – creating lists of any type of thing you were interested in collecting and sharing lists about (my favorite TV shows, my favorite recipes, etc.)

See also, from last week: Battle of the Mobile Social Photo Apps: Instagram vs PicPlz vs Burstn and from tonight: 10 Surprising Things You Can’t Do on Path

Lists are gone now and the Path that’s launching looks a lot more like Instagram than it does like anything else we’re familiar with. It’s a mobile social photo app, with tags for people, places and things.

Your list of friends cannot grow beyond the number 50. When a friend looks at one of your photos, you’re notified that they have in real time. There is not at time of launch, however, a way to post comments or otherwise interact with the photos of your friends.

“For each moment that you capture and add to your Path, you will see which of your friends have seen the moment in real-time,” the company said in a blog post tonight. “The idea is that understanding enables trust and storytelling amongst close friends and family. We hope you feel like more of your close friends are seeing life through your eyes than ever before.”

That sounds very compelling. The Path site is now live and the app is live here in iTunes. The company is currently hiring Android and BlackBerry developers.

Compared to other recently launched mobile social photo apps, Path’s user interface is probably the most sophisticated and elegant.

That said, there are a lot of things missing in the feature set. In addition to no conversation about photos, Path does not allow users to post photos from their existing phone photo albums, nor to publish to other services like Flickr or Facebook. There are no filters, either, something that’s popular on other photo apps. You cannot discover friends using Path by searching your friends on other platforms, only through the email contacts on your phone. You cannot follow someone back who has already followed you, unless you enter their email. You cannot view someone’s profile page unless they are already your friend. There’s being intentionally small and then there’s making it really hard to find people.

So the point is to only add people you are already really close with – and know that no one else will see your photos. Will that make people feel comfortable sharing more than they might otherwise? That used to be the reigning theory at Facebook, until the company did a 180 last December and turned the default privacy setting to public. Path co-founder Morin left the company prior to that change.

Investors

Who else is behind the company? Investors include: Index Ventures, First Round Capital, Founders Fund and Betaworks.

Individual angel investors include Ashton Kutcher, Ron Conway, Kevin Rose, Keith Rabois (PayPal/Square), Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library TV), Steve Anderson, Tim Draper (DJF), Joi Ito (Creative Commons), Fadi Ghandour, Matt Cohler, Sam Lessin (Facebook), Bill Randuchel, Karl Jacob, Paul Buchheit (Inventor of Gmail, Adsense and now at Y Combinator), Ruchi Sanghvi, John Couch, Michael Parekh, Claudio Chiuchiarelli, Maurice Werdegar, Don Dodge (Google), and Chris Kelly (Facebook).

That’s a whole lot of muscle, brains and social capital betting on small group social networking, mobile photo sharing and this experienced founding team.

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