Whether you think Facebook’s billion dollar acquisition of Instagram was a great decision or a bizarre misfire one thing is clear: it changed the nature of the apps market forever. While most free apps make their money by hosting ads or containing in-app purchases, there is now a new factor to consider: acquisition. Since that day developers have been competing to see who can be the next Instagram, who can come up with the next billion dollar idea. There are some within the industry who feel that Path, a free mobile social media platform, is that idea. The company generated a great deal of buzz by rejecting a $100 million buyout offer by Google, suspecting that their creation might be worth even more. And yes, Facebook is rumored to be considering the app carefully for a potential purchase down the line. So why is Path so valuable? What exactly are they doing differently?
Facebook in the Early Days
The answer: not too much, but just enough. To explain the app’s appeal, I want to take you back to the early days of Facebook. Do you remember how much simpler it was? How much more pure? You didn’t have very many friends, you didn’t like many things, the whole thing seemed new and fresh and exciting.
Now our news feeds are cluttered with advertisements we asked to receive, endless pleas for us to like products we already liked in the first place. Now our friends lists are filled with people we don’t especially care about, like that guy who’s a friend of one of your other friends who you met for two seconds that one time. You might never talk to him again and you wouldn’t regret it one bit, and yet you’ve signed yourself up to be ensconced in the minutiae of his life, day in and day out. Why? Perhaps you didn’t want to be rude. Perhaps you felt that since you didn’t hate the guy that you might as well accept his friend request. Yeah, why, but then again, why not? Just another bit of information to skim past in your endless quest to find something relevant and/or interesting, right?
Well, Path eliminates nearly all of that, and if you haven’t already downloaded it as a result of the first clause of this sentence I’ll continue to give you reasons why you might consider it. What Path does, essentially, is cut off the fat and leave you with the meat. Those unnecessary friends? Those billions of pages you’ve “liked” in order to show everyone how interesting you are? None of that is a factor here. Path caps the amount of friends you can have at 150, but its developers recommend that you add considerably less. Whereas Facebook serves as a way to stay connected to everyone you’ve ever known and some you don’t, a service which, of course, has its own benefits and failings, Path is a way to stay connected to those who truly matter most to you. Just who those people are is up to you, the app can be a personal social network for one family who wants to stay in easy contact or a group of friends who want to make plans together. The idea is to keep your group of friends small and concentrated, to bring back a purity and simplicity that has been completely neglected as of late by Facebook and other social networks.
Is Path a Must Have App?
The point could be raised that if one wants a social media experience like the one Path is offering they don’t need to download the app to get it. You could, for example, simply not friend everyone on the planet and like fewer pages. But, to continue with the overly familiar food metaphors, Path lets you have your cake and eat it too. It allows you to incorporate a degree of exclusivity into your online life while still remaining publicly inclusive. Path is a very different concept from the typical social network in this regard. As Dave Morin, a co-founder of Path (and a former Facebook executive) said, “If Facebook built the cities, then we are building the homes.” In other words, Path is not about keeping a compendium of all the people in your life and all of the things that matter to you, it’s about picking and choosing from those things and connecting with only the most important of them. It is less an alternative to Facebook than a companion to it, and for this reason an acquisition by said company would actually make a lot of sense. Both experiences compliment each other and give you something the other does not. Both offer unique advantages and disadvantages.
Of course, there are many of us who, for all its flaws, are perfectly happy with Facebook and see no need to utilize yet another social network. Sure, Path makes things a bit simpler, but is that really necessary. After all, Facebook gives us the means with which to ignore those who we wish. Is it so hard to deal with all of that extra nonsense? Well, no, I suppose not, but sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming. Often on Facebook you’re faced with a sea of information which you couldn’t care less about, a scenario which would never happen on Path, provided you utilize the service in the way they intend. The app is working off the theory that if your friends list is more meaningfully selected that what you post will be more significant, more personal. Supposedly, the app will allow you to share just about anything. If you’re going through a really hard time and you need help, but you don’t want everyone in the world to know about your problem Path would be an effective place to go. Of course, you can control who sees your posts on Facebook, but its much simpler to simply post a status on Path which you know only your closest friends and family can see then to select who can and cannot see what you post on another social network.
So do I recommend Path? Sure. I think it’s a very interesting and promising concept, one which could be a more helpful or meaningful than the average social network. That being said, Path is only effective if you allow it to be. Add your full 150 friends and the app will just turn into another Facebook-esque cluttered mess. Just like other social networks, anyone can attempt to friend you on Path. To preserve what makes the experience special you might have to turn them down. That might make you look or feel like a jerk, but if you give in and let the exclusivity of the app’s world slip away there’s really no point to even having it anymore. Tell them sorry, and that they’re more than welcome to friend you on Facebook. If you’re willing to let it work, Path can be a great alternative. The choice is yours. In the end, I think Facebook and Path belong together, two sides of the same experience. This is one purchase they should strongly consider. It makes a great deal more sense than buying Instagram. You, on the other hand, can have Path for free.