Pathgatory & Asymmetrical Social Circles: Two weeks w Path 2.0

A big snooze. That’s what I thought of Path’s v1 and their follow-up Despite a talented team and wonderful design sensibilities, neither product caught my attention as a use case I really cared about. Small group photo sharing? Ho hum. Then two weeks ago the Internet exploded with joy – wow, Path 2.0 is not just beautiful, it’s also making a statement — namely, we’re not afraid of Facebook, Google+, Twitter or any other entrenched successful social space. Bring it.

I’ve been using the app fairly regularly since its release although still struggling to decide whether it’s a personal sharing community – what Facebook was before it wasn’t anymore (because they decided the open graph was more interesting). Or if it’s really my personal diary/timeline where my invited friends might sometimes comment (but where I don’t spend much time on their feeds). 
Five observations about Path 2.0 (P2 from here on) — what it is, what it isn’t and what i want it to be (but need a little help from my friends):
1) Its DNA is mobile
The first generation of mobile design merely ported our understanding of the web onto a smaller screen. We’re now firmly in the second generation — mobile first, and in some cases, mobile only. Designed from the phone to the web as opposed to the reverse. Perhaps this is why several people have commented that P2 feels like a native iOS application designed by Apple. 

2) Should I assume everything is private?
The 150 friend limit. The warmth of the UX. The nature of the data you are asked to share was previously reserved for the omnipotent eyes of Santa Claus (“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake”). All of this suggests a certain degree of privacy but for me there are some design challenges which threaten this cozy nook:

a. Asymmetical social circles 
It’s jarring to see friends of friends commenting on our mutual friend’s posts because it shatters the notion of P2 being a small shared space. It has little to do with actual privacy (I know my friends’ friends can’t see my feed) but rather my perception of who is inhabiting the space with me. In the P2 case, FOF comments are noise to me. If I wanted to hear from those folks I would have friended them myself. Perhaps P2 will one day hide comments from non-friends behind a “see all” preference (i realize this solution would create awkward missing responses in some views).

b. Are my friends the privacy weak link?
I’ve tried to be more personal in my posting to P2, not just recreate the photos/status updates/etc that I would share in other services. I’m doing this under the assumption that my friends will treat P2 as a private space – ie not mention it to others. When all info is public you can assume anyone can see it. On P2, you can see the avatars of who else has viewed a post but I don’t expect my friends to remember who I’ve chosen to share with on P2. So instead the default needs to be: comment on P2 posts w/in P2 but don’t mention them anywhere else. In some respects I’m almost treating P2 more like a persistent GroupMe than a mini-Facebook. Of course this is the promise of G+ and the flexibility of circles.

3) What should I share via P2 as opposed to elsewhere?
So many choices – status, photos, videos, location, music, biorhythms. And public/private toggles via pushing to FB, 4SQ, Twitter, etc. When I want to publish publicly (which is 95% of my sharing), I just go to Twitter and G+ and assume my P2 friends will see the info there. On P2 I’ve tended to post more specific details about my location/evening plans (“hey i’ll be at and can get a few people in if you want”) or personal details about my life. I guess P2 could become my central CMS, where I manage both public and private posts across networks, but that gets confusing. People like single purpose apps. It’s one of the G+ circles design challenges – not just making circles but then adding and removing based on the information you’re posting.

4) And thus Pathgatory!!!! 
Given all this confusion I’m coining a new word: Pathgatory (Purgatory for Path friend requests – you just don’t respond because you’re not yet sure how you’ll use P2). Right now I’m sharing with a pretty tight group of ~15 people who meet two criteria:

a. Do I know about your fears & failures?
I love hearing about your new product release, wedding, IPO, sports car, CNBC interview, etc. But I can already do that everywhere else on the web. One filter I’ve used on P2 is “do I know about their fears and failures, not just successes.” I ache for P2 to be a digital version of the late night heart-to-heart over whiskey, not just another place to +1 your backstage pics with Lady Gaga. 

b. Are you friends with my friends? 
As said earlier, I find P2 most pleasing when it’s a friend network with strong ties. Thus I’ve been more likely to accept a friend request from someone who is already friends with my existing Path graph. Maybe it’s also because I’m likely to keep encountering this person commenting/viewing my friend’s posts anyway so they become more familiar (a tweak on 2a).
Josh Constine at TechCrunch feels similarly about the need to limit friending. He writes:
To retain its value, Path must somehow keep users from reducing its distinction from existing social networks. Its on-boarding process may need to help by suggesting you only add your closest friends based on those you wall post or @reply with. It will hurt its growth, and finding the proper language will be tricky, but it is crucial that Path make it clear to users that they shouldn’t add just anyone.
5) Intimacy vs Virality: Those Damn “Seen” #s
Lots of the P2 design choices are wonderful and detailed. The one I totally disagree with is making “view by #” a default piece of metadata. Seeing high #s on my friends’ posts (because they’ve accepted more friend requests) is subtle pressure for me to friend more people as well to establish my credibility within the ecosystem. Path has focused on creating value in its feature, not via game mechanics and this is the one inconsistent decision. My solution would be to record that data and make it visible only to the post’s author in their own view. That way i can see which of my posts had the most interaction relative to the size of my own graph.

What’s so fascinating here is that because of the small group nature, my own use of Path 2.0 feels more subject to how my friends intend to use it than just about any other social service. If I can’t find any unique communal social interaction – either because that’s not Path’s direction or my friends want to take the app in a different direction – then it could be an interesting “single player game” maintaining my own timeline but rarely looking at other people’s posts.
Either way Path 2.0 is worthy of discussion and seeing what sticks.
Kudos to similar posts by Charles Hudson and Brenden Mulligan

2 thoughts on “Pathgatory & Asymmetrical Social Circles: Two weeks w Path 2.0

  1. I actually forgot about the 150 friend limit and already screwed up by trying to share with too wide a group. Would be helpful if they indicated that sharing/friending on Path should be handled differently than the typically-liberal sharing/friending activity on other social apps.

  2. For me the biggest barrier is that it's destined for just my intimate circle…but not everyone in my intimate circle has a smart phone and/or the desire to adopt this intimate network. If you're only reaching a portion of the people you need to reach (IE some of your good friends, but not all of them), then it still hurts your ability to truly adopt it.

    The other option is simply to revel in the UI, and make it a Twitter/4SQ/Facebook/Tumblr posting front end…but then you can't ever post from the broser without breaking the paradigm (some posts have Path links, some don't?)

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