Why Path May Be The Ultimate App For Google Glass

I'm a devoted Pathhole—a hardcore user of mobile social network Path. For all that I make fun of Path's twee, artisanal, and bespoke nature—on a recent visit to its lovely office in San Francisco, I was tempted to ask CEO Dave Morin if his software engineers were cruelty-free—I have a soft spot for the service that brings me updates from a small circle of friends, which I then festoon with emoticons.

If anything might convert me into a Glasshole, the name I've adopted for the ostentatious neophiles who have started sporting Glass, Google's Internet-enabled camera-and-display headset, it might well be Path.

Path CTO Nathan Folkman demonstrates Google Glass. Path CTO Nathan Folkman demonstrates Google Glass.

Morin and Path CTO Nathan Folkman recently showed me a version of Path for Google Glass. (Google recently signaled that Path would be one of the first Glass apps available.) It turns out that two key features of Path make it perfectly suited for Glass—in a way that larger social networks like Google+ and Facebook may never catch up to.

I've formed this opinion based on brief experiences with both Glass and the Glass version of Path, so take them with a grain of salt. But even those glimpses suggest an uncanny fit between software and hardware.

Small Screen, Meet Tight Friends

The first advantage Path has is its insistence that you limit your friends to a tight list of 150. I find this kind of in-or-out listmaking agonizing. It reminds me of when my husband and I invited people to our wedding reception, which, now that I think about it, had a headcount of about 150. But now that I've put in the work, I find my Path friends really are the ones I like to hear from frequently throughout the day.

Contrast that to Google's built-in Glass sharing options, which require you to go to a website to set up a limited number of contacts in advance. 

This Android tablet is mirroring what Path CTO Nathan Folkman sees on his Google Glass heads-up display. This Android tablet is mirroring what Path CTO Nathan Folkman sees on his Google Glass heads-up display.

The second is Path's stripped-down simplicity. Originally designed for mobile, it's actually even more effective on Glass. In my experience, people typically share short updates about where they are or what they're doing—things that are too mundane for Twitter, too intimate for Facebook. In form, tone, and length, they're just right for Glass's screen, floating just above your right eye.

Google+ updates, which you can of course get on Glass, are often too long for the Glass interface. And the thought of getting my Facebook News Feed—an option now that Facebook has a Glass app—through Glass seems overwhelming.

But Where Is The Money?

There are perpetual questions about how Path will find enough users and make money. Glass will not answer those. Folkman, Path's CTO, estimates that some 300 Glass testers have downloaded the Glass version of Path. (Google hasn't given out numbers, but that's likely a large portion of the Glass population.)

For what it's worth, Morin tells me the company has been making progress on the business front. It has likely crossed 13 million registered users, and its main source of income—charging users for custom icons they can include in messages—has drawn both derision and dollars. Little-noticed deals with the likes of Sprint and Kyocera suggest that the company may find ways of making money from partnerships with wireless carriers and handset makers, too.

An update from a friend's check-in at Google I/O displays on Path CTO Nathan Folkman's Glass display. An update from a friend's check-in at Google I/O displays on Path CTO Nathan Folkman's Glass display.

Folkman says the Glass effort, on which he's spent about 20 percent of his time recently, has helped him think about constructing an application programming interface for partners, and also designing Path notifications for smart watches and other lightweight, small-screen devices.

So if we are at the brink of a revolution in mobile computing where we trade smartphones for wearable devices, Path's experimentation may pay off—if not for the San Francisco-based startup, then for others who take careful note of its innovations.

Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite