Someday, maybe, doctors will study a condition called Facebook fatigue. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Symptoms include a sudden outburst of “What the heck am I doing?” after you’ve wasted 15 minutes reading about your ex-girlfriend’s brother’s latest trip to the gym.
A wave of apps are offering cures for this condition, in the form of social experiences for family and close friends. Even MyHeritage, an established family tree builder, has added photo and video sharing and has seen 166 million photos uploaded.
“There's definitely a trend toward richer and more fulfilling social experiences. How many times do you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and go, ‘eh?' I bet it happens a lot, and that creates demand for more relevant and smaller social networks,” says Raul Mujica, cofounder of Kincast.
Chief among the family-oriented startups is Path, a social network that limits you to 150 friends. That number is based on research by Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar; according to Path, we tend to have “5 best friends, 15 good friends, 50 close friends and family, and 150 total friends.”
Five million users are now sharing their photos, videos, check-ins, and thoughts on Path. And Path hopes they are genuine – presumably, compared to Facebook posts that might be tweaked and crafted to impress our followers.
“Path should help you authentically express yourself and share your personal life with loved ones,” they say (emphasis added). And your loved ones can respond more authentically: not just with a “like,” but with a smile, frown, gasp, laugh, or love.
“It's just easier to be yourself on the smaller social networks,” says Mujica.
“Everyone can relax and be themselves,” declares JustFamily, another social network for families.
Smaller social networks are becoming more in vogue as we realize all the stuff that we’re sharing on Facebook with one-time acquaintances. Now that Facebook has apps, you might be broadcasting everything from your location to your reading habits to what you’re making for dinner. Parents are sharing baby photos, and even creating Facebook pages for their children.
Facebook has tried to remedy this by making the privacy of your posts more transparent. Now, a few clicks will let you decide whether the post is shared with the public, your friends, no one, or a custom group. But creating custom groups takes time, and it’s easy to forget to make those few clicks – blasting out the intimate hospital photos of your newborn child into the big, bad world.
“[Many, many people] view moments involving their close families as intimate and personal. They don’t want to give up control over that content,” says Familiar CEO Marcus Womack. “And we know some of our older users are skeptical about what they perceive as the ‘share everything’ culture of social media.”
Google+ circles serve a similar purpose, with similar shortcomings.
When you’re broadcasting a status to 1,000 friends, you might as well be talking to no one. You can’t tailor the message to a particular context – like that of a childhood friend, or a coworker – so it either ends up generic or ill-suited to half of your friends list.
On small social networks, you know your audience: a handful of close friends or family who actually care about the details of your life. So your posts and comments go further to building a real connection.
The purpose of video messaging on Kincast, for example, is to make loved ones feel special. And Familiar lets you send photos automatically to your grandparents’ desktop wallpaper, turning their computer into a digital photo frame.
“We found it strange that modern social networking had helped our social lives and our professional lives immensely, but hadn't changed what means the most to us: how we connect with our loved ones,” say the cofounders of FamilyLeaf.
A home for important memories
To go along with a separate, personal network, you end up sharing the most important parts of your life. And that, in turn, creates memories that are arguably more valuable than the random thoughts and drunken photos shared on Facebook.
Path, which was designed to be the story of your life – a new kind of journal – recently introduced a search function to help you tap into those memories. It guides you in finding moments when you only remember a scrap.
“You might be grasping for the same memory when once you think, “Thanksgiving last year,” and another time, “Dana happy in autumn,” and the next, “funny turkey photo.” So you can search like you think, it’s how we’ve designed it,” they say.
The trend toward sharing videos with family also fits in here. Videos are some of the richest memories, yet they can be clunky to upload and watch on Facebook. Kincast, mentioned above, has an iOS app where you can easily send video messages, share videos, and even make video invitations. You get 30 minutes of storage free, and pay only $5 per month for unlimited uploads.
Cloudee is another, similar iOS app for private video sharing with friends and family. While they’re still in beta, you can get unlimited storage for free. There’s also Burst and Sidebark.
And finally, Perch hopes to create the easiest seamless video messaging of all. They actually encourage you to mount your device on the wall and turn on Perch all the time. When you want to send a message, you just walk up to the camera and start talking, and the video is sent automatically to your family.
Facebook certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, but Path has shown that there’s room for family apps in the market. As more and more of us show symptoms of Facebook fatigue, I suspect that we’ll go in search of a wholesome cure. We’ll want to share photos and video, and maybe even voice. With such personal information, we won’t tolerate privacy scandals as nonchalantly. And, hopefully, we’ll make even stronger personal bonds in the process.