Despite early success Path, the newest social networking hit that has nothing to do with “pinning,” still has a long way to go.
Path still has a few problems and the first one is that their name is going to spawn endless blog titles like this one. But seriously there are three main challenges I see for Path that they and their users are going to have to overcome in order for Path to become a legitimate player in the social networking space.
The Network Effect:
Limitations can actually be very enabling. It’s a paradox that rules our lives. Creativity is often better when you have limitations on what you can and can’t do. One of the most powerful things about Twitter is it’s 140 character limit. With Path, you only get 150 friends. This is great for tighter groups who feel they can share more freely. It’s horrible for creating scale-free networks.
What makes Facebook so powerful is that no matter how much they all screw up, it’s still where almost all of your friends and family are. It’s why it will be a long time (assuming Facebook doesn’t really screw up) until we see a serious Facebook competitor. This is the network effect. The more nodes in a network, the stronger it is.
One particularly powerful example of the network effect is scale-free networks. Four years ago I wrote about how Twitter (like the Internet) is a scale-free network. They are really hard to kill. Path is not, nor will it ever likely be a scale-free network. With only 150 nodes in each network and therefore limited interconnectedness between networks, Path will never achieve the strength that other scale-free networks enjoy.
Finding, Friending and Unfriending.
Related to the above problem is the challenge that there are just not enough people on Path to make it a reasonable option for people’s primary social network. I’ve commented before that right now Path is the place where social media people go to not talk about social media. If you’re an early adopter like me, with large online social networks then chances are you have enough friends that are on Path to at least make it interesting. But beyond the early adopters who’s really on Path right now.
For someone like me who has thousands of connections on Twitter and over a thousand on Facebook, the limitations on Path can actually be refreshing. But the reality is that most people on Facebook only have between 120 and 130 connections. They don’t need the limitations of Path.
But let’s assume that Path moves beyond the early adopters and at least moves into the early majority this is going to create problems for users like myself. I haven’t hot the 150 limit yet, but I’m getting close and I know other people are. When you hit 150 you’re faced with the situation of having to stop adding new people or unfriend other people in order to add people who are probably more realistically part of your true 150 person network. Psychologically this isn’t an easy thing for people to do.
Better Privacy Means What Exactly?
Path’s relaunch was timed perfectly with the most recent flare up over Facebook privacy. Part of the promise of Path was that it would have better privacy. What exactly that means is a little unclear which is the challenge of blanket promises like this.
Before he became POTUS @BarackObama promised change. The details were a little unclear on what kind of change, so when President Obama took office and people didn’t see the kind of change they expected, they were unhappy. Blanket statements and vague promises are great for marketing but they’re impossible to deliver on. When Path promised better security and privacy, everyone has a different idea of what that means and when they see something that isn’t inline with what they think “better” means they turn around and beat Path over the head with their promise. This is the same kind of behavior we’ve seen with Google’s “Don’t be evil” mission statement.
What do we do now?
If you’re like me and you like Path and you think that it has a lot of promise, then I can only suggest you be patient and continue to use the service as a vehicle to post to Facebook and Twitter. If more of your friends see you using Path, they’re more likely to start using it themselves.
If you’re still unsure about Path and if it’s worth your time then wait and see. If you’re unhappy with what Path’s version of better privacy means I can only tell you that they are better than what Facebook, Twitter or any other service is and if you have a problem with Path then maybe you should rethink your overall use of social media. But I personally think the World will come around to the reality that we’re all going to be sharing a lot more about ourselves in the future and it’s actually going to be a very good thing. But that’s another post for another day.
- 2011 Social Media Predictions Report Card (newcommbiz.com)
- Top 5 Predictions for the Next 5 Years [2012 Edition] (newcommbiz.com)
- Will the Social Media Tide Turn From PR to Advertising? (newcommbiz.com)