Do The New Facebook Groups Invalidate The “Path” Social Network?

PathLogoThere’s been a buzz lately about Path — a well-funded new startup with an all star team. Path launched last week and is a social network for the iPhone which ensures that users are connected to their real friends and incentivizes users to share emotionally relevant photo moments with those friends. But did Facebook preemptively invalidate them with their new Facebook Groups product?

Path, which founder Dave Morin refers to as a “Personal Network” rather that a social network, solves a problem that many Facebookers have experienced: it’s difficult for me to easily develop a long lasting dialogue between me and a group of my close friends. The key here is long-lasting. If I have a singular joke I want to send to my four closest friends, I can use a Facebook message. But if you have a close knit group of close friends with whom you’re constantly joking with online, you don’t want to constantly send new messages, or reply to an existing thread. It works, and surely many users connect with friends using FB message threads, but it’s clumsy, and if we’ve learned anything from Facebook, it’s that social success is based on reducing the friction for social activities like tagging photos and leaving comments.   This is one of the key problems that Path attempts to solve with its personal network, and it does it admirably.

Path Screenshot

There is a few key elements that mean it’s going to be a different nature of conversation with you and your friends on Path from Facebook: Path is all about photos. Every moment that you tag or share with friends must be a photo accompanied by some text. So it may not be as easy to arrange dinner plans on the personal network, but that’s not what Path is trying to do. They are trying to build a log of emotionally important connections between you and friends. Path changes the medium of communication between you and your friends such that you’ll be uploading images along with your comments, which makes for a fun way to connect.

In Path, you are only adding a select group of friends. In fact, the network caps the total number of friends you can add at 50. Read below for the rationale for this, directly from Path itself.

We chose 50 based on the research of Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar, who has long suggested that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships that the human brain can sustain at any given time. Dunbar’s research also shows that personal relationships tend to expand in factors of roughly 3. So while we may have 5 people whom we consider to be our closest friends, and 20 whom we maintain regular contact with, 50 is roughly the outer boundary of our personal networks. These are the people we trust, whom we are building trust with, and whom we consider to be the most important and valued people in our lives.

This means that Path is really about save your best memories with those ‘5’ that are your closest friends. Quite different than Facebook.

Well, it was quite different than Facebook until the debut of the new Groups product — launched only a few weeks before Path. In my opinion, this was a pre-emptive strike by Facebook (who have proved themselves to be cunning strategists in their battles and alliances with companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google). Facebook Groups allows me to easily add a group of my friends to our own exclusive party room within Facebook. The group is then easily accessible in the side bar. The prominent positioning of the Groups indicates that Facebook is serious about making this a key way to interact with friends: it’s easier for me to access my Groups than to find a specific friend’s profile. Read more about Facebook Groups here.

So do the Facebook Groups invalidate Path? With my FB Groups, it’s pretty easy for me to add all my closest contacts to one place, which is one of Path’s key features. I can upload as many photos as I want, but it seems like tagging is not exclusive to the groups. That gives Path a usefulness not found in Facebook: it’s easy to tag my friends in photos and have it only available to my friends. This means that Path makes sense for small groups of people who do private things together and have no interest in having those photos anywhere close to Facebook. With that, I’d say Path has a niche use that isn’t available within Facebook.

If you’re more interested in some of the key issues surrounding Path, I suggest you engage the Quora community who feel the product is a bit overrated and do some critical analysis here.

Also, take a look at this video about Path for more information.