There are too many apps. “There’s an app for that” has passed the point of cliché and become some strange kind of axiom. Path is the perfect example. We have an app for staying in touch with friends: Facebook. We have an app for sharing pretty photos: Instagram. We have an app for checking into places: Foursquare. We have approximately 9,182 apps for auto-tweeting what song we’re listening to right now. And yet, Path.
For which “that” is Path the app? Is it the app for being all of those apps at once, but prettier? Is that a problem we have? Do we need an app to solve it? When Path pivoted into version 2.0, it called itself a “smart journal.” That sounds like a nice thing. But after a good run, it doesn’t seem so smart anymore.
Path Is a Monument to Path
I had my doubts about Path 2.0 when it launched. It was like a gorgeous mirror for gazing at oneself. It seemed vain and unnecessary. But after awhile, to my surprise, a few friends began to join. Over the holidays, Path became wonderful.
Not long after I learned to love Path, I read this great post (now gone, unfortunately) by Tag Savage. It shook my confidence a little bit. “Path is pretty in the same designy way as our modern museums,” Savage wrote.
“These museums are very exciting when they open. You show up and marvel along with all of the other fans of architecture. Maybe you return for one of those nights where they stay open late and there is a band and drinking. ‘A great space,’ you think… The art doesn’t get talked about so much at these museums.”
At the time, I couldn’t see that happening, but it turned out to be prescient.
“Path is a monument to Path,” Savage said. It is no place to scribble in. I wish it longevity so that it might find shabbiness.”
It has that shabbiness by now, but it’s not charming. It’s boring. It’s cupcakes and workouts. Guilt and pride. Your friend’s moment of self-satisfaction is brought to you by Nike+! The little emoticons mar the bottoms of the posts like graffiti, and it’s the same handful of people day in and day out. There’s no novelty.
I’ve long since lost the reason why I’m sharing these moments with all these people. The reactions are nice and fuzzy, but they’re inscrutable because everybody interprets emoticons differently. They’re very crude approximations of human expression.
For a quiet place, Path’s signal-to-noise ratio is no better than any other network. The content is mundane on purpose. Without the Web in it, what else is there to do? At least links are clickable now, but there are no previews or anything. It’s really not a great place for sharing.
“We Are Sorry. We Made a Mistake.”
Then, of course, there’s the sliminess of the company. Path was shady about privacy. It uploaded users’ address books to its servers without asking. When caught, Path publicly apologized and said it would delete the data if asked.
Lots of people asked, including my friend David Barnard. He emailed Path and asked for all his data to be deleted, and the support person said it would be done. But when David tried to sign up again a month later, he found his data right there waiting for him.
Path may fix the problem going forward, but it obviously doesn’t care about it that much.
Whose Path Are We On?
David’s incident was almost enough to get me to quit there and then, but it got me thinking about what kinds of data I have in Path. The dust-up was over our address books, which is bad because it’s other people’s data, not ours.
We probably shouldn’t be able to do with our friends’ addresses and phone numbers as we please, but we can, and so does Path. It’s not just Path. Our contact info is basically up for grabs out there.
But the data I own that I put into Path is stuff I made. I keep some of it closed off within Path, but I’m sharing it with other people. It’s not like I expect it to be a secret. I don’t really care what Path does with it, either. Presumably, someday, they’ll try to monetize it.
But like I said, I don’t really know why I’m putting it in there anymore. The museum has gotten shabby.
So before I decided to quit, I tapped over to my Path and started scrolling back to see what I’d put in there. And for the first time in months while using Path, this feeling of wonder came over me.
All these memories were so touching and vivid. Big, momentous photos punctuated by little thoughts and check-ins and a handful of my favorite songs. It was so beautiful… So me. My friends’ little emoticons adorned the margins of the posts, but this was all about meeeeeeee.
Give Me Back My Journal
After gazing intently at my own life for a few minutes, I snapped out of it. Just like I thought at the beginning, I mused. Path is just a pretty mirror to gaze into narcissistically. It’s a journal you let other people read.
Path calls version two a “smart journal.” What is smart about it, exactly? The smarts are all on Path’s side. I don’t own the data. Path is the one using “smart” on it to calculate some kind of business model.
Yeah, I thought. I should get out of here.
And then I realized I couldn’t. Months of my life are beautifully recorded inside this app, lured out of me by my selfish lust for an audience, and I can’t get them out.
Path has stolen my journal, and it won’t give it back.
Facebook is doing the same thing, you know. Timeline is going to be a big ol’ billboard about our whole lives, and years from now, we’re going to want to scroll back through it and see what we were up to. And Facebook will be able to show us nice, nostalgic ads along the way. I bet that’s what Path wants to do, too.
But screw that. If we have any data we should host ourselves, it’s our personal journals. I don’t care whether it’s digital or analog, paper or plastic, but journaling is important. It’s just as narcissistic on Path as it has always been; we occasionally need to reflect on ourselves to remember what has happened to us. But our journals could never “pivot” or “exit” before. Nor could they advertise to us.
I’ve been convinced by the handiness of digital journals. I use Day One, myself. That lets me keep the data on my computer and in my iCloud account, not on someone else’s leaky server. I used to be paper all the way. Now I’m a bit scattered. But I’m not putting these valuable memories in the hands of a private company like Path. I’d better close the book on this journal before I risk missing too much of my life.
That’s it. I’m about to go to sleep and watch that goofy moon rise for the last time.
Are you using Path? How is it going for you?