Start-up plans a more personal social network

Start-up plans a more personal social network

Dave Morin, chief executive of Path, shares a picture of his socks with friends using the company’s new app on the iPhone. NYT

Dave Morin, who helped build Facebook Connect and the Facebook Platform, left the company this year to start his own venture, called Path. He says it is not another social network he has created, but a personal network, and on Monday, it will open to the public with an iPhone app for sharing cellphone photos with a limited circle of friends.

Each user cannot have more than 50 friends.

Path is a reaction to Facebook, where people must both agree to be friends, but can have thousands of them, and Twitter, where anyone can choose to receive a user’s posts.

“If you look at how these networks are grown, they start out really high-quality,” said Morin, “and as more and more people join, it becomes hard to find people you care about. With Path, you have to be friends with them in the real world in order for them to pop up on your screen.”

Path, which is starting with the iPhone app and a Web site and plans to build apps for Android and BlackBerry, has kept its plans shrouded in secrecy. It now joins a growing list of similar apps, like Instagram and PicPlz. The apps are part of several big trends. As cellphone cameras have improved, people are taking more photos than ever before.
Path, along with the other apps, wants to build a broader mobile network, not just photo-sharing apps. It envisions people using a new mobile social network, in addition to Facebook, to share photos, videos and other things with a close-knit group. However, the rival apps differ from Path by offering software filters, which change the way photos look. They also follow Twitter’s model, so any user can see anyone else’s pictures.

Path is counting on people wanting a more controlled network of trusted friends. Morin chose the number 50 based on the research of Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist who tried to pinpoint the maximum number of people with whom others could have stable relationships. The Dunbar number, generally thought to be around 150, is a popular topic of discussion in Silicon Valley among people building tools to communicate virtually with thousands of people.

But Morin is focused on a different one of Dunbar’s numbers — the number of people that an individual knows and trusts, like the group you would invite to a birthday party. That number is between 40 and 60, Morin said.

Though Facebook allows users to limit their friends or create private groups, Facebook abstainers “simply don’t feel like they have a private enough place to share,” Morin said. “The devil’s in the defaults,” he said, and Path’s default will be to limit sharing.
On Path, users can pick up to 50 friends to see their photos.

(From left, standing) Path’s Dustin Mierau, co-founder and creative director, Matt Van Horn, VP of business development, and Dave Morin, chief executive, at their start-up office in San Francisco. NYTThe friendship does not have to be mutual, so they might send photos to someone who does not send photos to them. With one swipe, users can also make a picture visible only to the people tagged in it, so friends who were not invited to a dinner party won’t feel left out, for instance.

“We solve for that social ambiguity that we all have in the real world,” Morin said.
Academics who research the way we socialise online say that social networks that group all our friends, colleagues and acquaintances together do not accurately reflect our offline relationships, which can be a source of tension for Internet users.

“People are not able to see that this technology can offer them the same level of protection and behaviour patterns that they are used to in their offline lives, so they feel violated,” said S Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. But people already using Facebook, LinkedIn or others may have a severe case of social-networking fatigue when asked to join yet another service.

“There were a whole slew of mobile-only social networks that you never heard of that were all trying to beat Facebook for this new medium,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst who researches the mobile Internet. “They either got bought or just shrivelled up.”

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