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Path Looks To Craft A Personal Social Network

After being in stealth mode for quite some time, the San Francisco startup Path unveiled its iPhone application a couple of days ago. The application offers a simple photo sharing experience. Users can share real-time photos in a stream which is quite similar to a number of applications including Instragram which has been growing its user base like wildfire. The differentiator for Path is that its goal is not to be just another photo sharing application, rather, it is poised to be a lifestyle application for sharing things personally with just a small network of friends. Path is focused on relationships, and not just any relationship, very personal relationships.

The Path team is lead by co-founders Dave Morin, formerly of Facebook, Dustin Mierau, formerly of Flickr and Shawn Fanning, formerly of Napster. The founders have pulled in a number of solid people to build a team of fourteen, including Matt Van Horn, formerly of Digg, to lead up business development. We got a chance to sync up with Matt on Monday and talk about the team, their philosophy and what we might expect in the future.

Building the Company Culture and the Path Approach
The foundation for building the team and company culture at Path really started with their vision and getting complete buy-in. They looked to recruit the smartest engineers in the world, yet were also focused on design-centric product principles. Co-Founder Dustin Mierau helped strengthen that position as they looked to build truly beautiful and quality products.

“The team believes in high quality craftsmanship.” – Matt Van Horn of Path

Culturally, the team has different work schedules and habits (they don’t have any real policies in place), but they all work together and consider themselves craftsmen. Fourteen people strong, Path has no plans to massively scale up at this time, but they are looking for a few more Android and Blackberry developers as they look to roll the product out across the mobile landscape.

The Future of Path
While Path launched as a photo sharing service, it is not focused on remaining such. The iPhone application is categorized as a “Lifestyle” application and that is what it plans to be. Photos are just the first expression. We expect the product to morph into a personal journal product similar to Tumblr, but for your personal network. As Matt shared with us, “Path is currently its own ecosystem, but down the road we see it as complimentary with other social networking experiences and sharing.” 

Our Take On Path
As an iPhone photo fanatic, I was immediately intrigued by the ability to create a personal network for sharing. I would like to keep the network closed to just close friends and family so that I can then share personal photos that I don’t necessarily want floating around the open web. That said, there are a few things I’d like to see the application add to make it better. First, I find it extremely limiting that Path only allows users to take photos via the app. I would like to be able to take photos with my iPhone, outside of the application, and then select them from my gallery to use within Path. Second, when posting photos you can only categorize them as a specific person, place or thing, which is rather limiting. This obviously was done for a reason, one which is not yet clear to users of the application. Third, the first thing I did was share my Path with family and close friends. Some of those folks are not on the iPhone so they would have to view my Path online which is not ideal. I know Path is looking to expand to other platforms so this will not be the case for very long but it is still worth noting. Finally, it feels like a bit of a black hole when you share. There’s no feedback loop, letting me know that my friends and family are happy (or not) that I’m sharing my Path with them. I’m hoping those types of interactions are on the horizon as well.

The idea of a ‘personal’ social network is an intriguing one. It makes you think about questions like: How do you decide who is part of your 50 connection personal network? What do you do when you decide to remove someone? Is that awkward? Are there commercial or marketing uses for Path? For example, could this personal network concept be applied to fan clubs for pro athletes and celebrities as a way to intimately connect with fans? I think so. Only time will tell if these are trails that Path will cross – but for now, Path is taking the road less traveled by crafting a simple, well designed ‘personal’ social networking experience.

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About the Author

Frank Gruber is the founder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech Cocktail. He is an entrepreneur and new media journalist focused on sharing his tech product expertise and analysis on emerging technologies. Previously he built products for millions of users while at AOL and Tribune Company. He is a startup advisor and investor. He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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