An app called Path launched its version 2 do-over yesterday. “The smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love,” it calls itself now. I ignored this app until today. All I saw from version 1 was emoji spam in my Twitter stream. Let’s take it as read that version 1 failed to catch on, hence version 2. How does an app help you “share life with the ones you love?”
The tech “world,” or “scene,” or whatever it is, is in love with this app. It tingled with excitement when Path went “stealthish” in 2010. It launched later that year weirdly lacking in features, and the blogerati still fawned over it. What is it about Path? How does “love” arise from Objective-C and 3.5 inches of glass? By evoking the people in your life, of course. And Path does that, just as Facebook does. It’s a life stream. An ego trip. “Share life with the ones you love,” especially yourself.
Your Path, Your Timeline, Whatever
Path, in the exact manner as the conspicuously not-shipped Facebook Timeline, makes your life into a story, and your friends and family are the characters. You, of course, are the protagonist, the narrator, the star. Choose a profile picture. Choose a cover image. Share what you’re doing. Are we talking about Facebook or Path? Exactly.
But Path’s attention to detail puts Facebook to shame. Granted, that’s easy to do when you don’t have to bleed money out of your users’ eyeballs yet.
Path is a closed network. You can syndicate to Facebook or Twitter if you choose, but within Path, it’s for a limited number of close friends. It’s full of cute signals of feeling and emotion, including emoticons and Instagrams – I mean, photo filters. The user interface is damn awesome, eye-poppingly original, soft and intimate. You can go to sleep and wake up in it, and the icon changes with the phases of the moon.
Doesn’t that sound nice? Sure, it has that whole single-player-mode, where-are-my-friends problem, but it’s so sexy and flattering, even when I’m alone! Just invite them all. They’ll all join in. Right?
Stickiness & The Social Web
I didn’t do a poll or anything, but crawling the blogosphere every day, I get the sense that people aren’t satisfied with the Web. Why should we be? Bandwidth is expanding, interfaces are improving, the hardware is more responsive than ever. The Web is a communication medium that spans the globe, and by the measure of any engineer, we should be communicating better than ever. We probably are. But we aren’t satisfied.
We’ve wound up with a social Web in which tools have to be “sticky” to catch on. Facebook is the stickiest, because that’s where “everyone” is. But, – no offense, Windows people – Facebook is like the Windows of Web 2.0. It’s the most broadly compatible system, but we all resent using it a little. Do you know anyone who loves Facebook? It keeps getting noisier, more confusing, and less secure.
But 800 million people use it anyway. It’s “sticky.” “Everyone” is on there. “I don’t use Facebook” is the new “I don’t have a cell phone,” it is said.
So, here’s Path. What Facebook should be, some say. It’s for real friends, supposedly. not “friends” like the 2,000 people on Facebook. You can use Facebook like that, but then there’s all the politics: can I unfriend this person, maybe I’ll just mute them, what if I want to see their photos, &c, &c, &c. Sometimes it’s nice to get a fresh start.
But then you have the Google+ problem. You have to convince your real friends to join in. And you, as the kind of person who would try an app like Path, say to them, “You guys. It’s so cool. We can share everything with each other. Look at the moon!“
Then your friends go to the App Store or the Android Market and they peer into this uncanny valley of ego-streaming, and what do they do? Well, when Facebook introduced Timeline, what happened? A million or so (roughly 0.125%) users turn it on, Facebook looks at the data and panics. Launch date after launch date blows by. Facebook turns its attention to privacy concerns and doesn’t mention Timeline.
Path is just like Timeline, only more elegantly constructed. Unlike Timeline, Path is readily available now. Go ahead. Try it out. Gaze at yourself. Does it make you want to share?