Tag Archives: Path

Isn’t it about time social networking got a bit more human?

I’ve started to write a weekly column, Online Anthropologist, for Smart Company. Here’s the latest…

Will introducing interactions that are more real-world help social networks increase engagement?

I’ve always, quietly, been a fan of social network Path. When it launched back in 2010 I wrote a post highlighting its features, whilst sitting squarely on the fence and making no predictions one way or another about its chances of success.

Since then, Path has gradually introduced more and more features, I’ve managed to persuade a few fellow nerds to join, and as a result I’ve found myself using it more and more.

Path became part of my personal experience of the fragmentation of social media. It’s the network I turn to when I don’t want to broadcast my life to anyone who wants to stalk me (twitter) or a bunch of people I didn’t like all that much back in primary school (Facebook).

Then in February of this year there was that well documented privacy issue, for which Path took the fall before it emerged that everyone else was at it too. Too late, the damage was done and Path copped the majority of the flack. Whether they have any chance of success after that debacle remains to be seen: they are, after all, still claiming ‘over 2 million users’ – the same figure they claimed back in February when the privacy story broke – and that’s hardly the hockey-stick growth figures that, say, Pinterest has been able to claim, or Instagram can boast.

But Path remains an innovator. The user interface was always one step ahead of the competition: a mobile-only environment, it takes the best of Facebook and photo-sharing platforms like Instagram and rolls them together. It’s super-intuitive to use, and super-slick to look at. Now, with Path 2.5, Path is starting to redefine the way we interact on the social web.

How so? Well, there are a couple of new features that are changing the game. There’s something that Path calls the ‘nudge’. Sound familiar? Sound a bit like Facebook’s slightly dodgy-sounding ‘Poke’? Well, it IS a bit like a Poke. But it’s better than a Poke, because where the Poke button is a kind of disembodied, vaguely sexual verb that both looks seedy on the page, and feels seedy to use, the nudge is altogether more sophisticated and grown-up. See, unlike the Poke’s school-boy dig in the ribs, it actually asks some pre-populated questions, prompting the recipient to take action. So you can ‘nudge’ your mate to ‘take a photo!’, or ask ‘where are you?’ or ‘what are you up to?’:

What’s so cool about that? Well, aside from giving users a way to get in touch with their friends without a) having to think of something to say or b) having to deliver a creepy ‘poke’, it makes the social experience that bit more social – that bit more real. After all, you wouldn’t, in real life, try to get someone’s attention by jabbing at them with a pointy finger.

Of course the other cool thing, from Path’s viewpoint, is that the Nudge is a way for them to get their user base to do the work of re-engaging with lapsed users on their behalf. Good move for a network that feels like its starting to stagnate.

The second game-changer is the invite function. Path have played with theirs so that unlike on Twitter or Facebook, you can now write a personalized note asking someone to join the network so you can hook up. You can even use Siri (I’m doing this on an iPhone) to record a message.

Hardly a game-changer, you might say: but think about it. When combined with the nudge, the invite makes the virtual interactions in Path that little bit more nuanced than those on other networks, that little bit more shaded rather than black and white. And this makes it a social network that is a little bit more human, a little bit more usable and, hopefully, a little bit more engaging. Whilst I’m not 100% sure the introduction of these cool new features will be enough to reverse Path’s fortunes, I AM sure that we will start to see more of these kinds of features on the bigger networks. It’s great user experience design, and something that businesses should both keep an eye open for when it starts to become more commonplace in social networking, and take note of when designing their own web properties.

This post originally appeared in Smart Company‘s Online Anthropologist column, written by Edge’s Head of Digital Richard Parker.

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The fragmentation of social media

Broken Facebook logo

I’m a bit of a regular at Future Human events, and a few weeks ago I attended their session ‘Social Animals’ – exploring how (and if) social networks are changing our personalities. It was an interesting session for a number of reasons, but one of the big take away points for me was around the fragmentation of social media – the idea that a number of factors are beginning to chip away at Facebook’s monopoly of social media, leading to fragmentation of social media into lots of smaller communities and networks.

One of the panel at the event was Alex Halliday, founder and CEO of Social Go, an online service that allows users to create their own, interest focussed, social networks. He talked about the fact that lots of social networkers are not restricting themselves to the big networks – Facebook, Twitter etc – but are turning away from these mass, general sites to more close-knit communities, where users can unite around objects of common interest. Obviously Alex’s business model is built on this idea, so he has an interest in talking it up, but it rang true. With so many people getting their ‘social media training’ on Facebook – and becoming accustomed to social tools and user experience styles through it – it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that users are taking these skills and knowledge and using them elsewhere on the web – elsewheres that perhaps in pre-Facebook days were principally the domain of fanboys and geeks.

Obviously Alex is not the only one to be thinking like this. The inexorable rise of Facebook may have shifted our attention away from community sites, but they are thriving still – look at the Daddy of them all (if you’ll forgive the pun), the all-powerful Mumsnet. And what’s more, community sites are building in more ‘social’ features as championed by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to make them more useful to users. Other commentators such as Jack Wallington over on Brand Republic’s Wall Blog have talked in more depth on this niche network phenomena.

Another angle to the fragmentation theory is the social network Path which limits each user to 50 followers and cites Dunbar’s number as its rationale for doing so (there is an upper limit to the amount of people that an individual can know personally whilst also knowing how each person relates to one another – and it’s a lot less than the number of Facebook friends most people have). I find this a lot more interesting, as its often cited as a reason that we will never have a truly global society, or true homogenisation – yes we may have the same brands on our high streets, but our cognitive limitations mean that we will never be exactly the same.

Place these two ideas (the rise of nice communities and Dunbar’s number) against a backdrop of stories about Facebook losing users in its most established markets, and some people start putting two and two together and making five.

I think its early days to make any sort of rash forecasts about the demise of Facebook at the hands of smaller communities – there have always been smaller niche communities online, and there always will be – that doesn’t mean people don’t want to talk to their larger ‘friend’ base as well as a group of strangers they are linked to through common interest. I also think Facebook will be remiss if it doesn’t up its niche interest game – after all, from a monetisation perspective, Facebook’s revenue comes squarely from knowing as much about its users as possible to allow for high levels of targeting. But I do think there is something to the Dunbar’s number criticism. I think eventually we start to feel overwhelmed by the numbers, and we either ignore a huge amount of people we’re friends with – only actively responding to and interacting with a relatively small sub-group within our friend lists, go through mass culling exercises, or in some extreme cases drop out of Facebook altogether.

I’d love to generate a bit of discussion around this as I find the way the internet is developing in front of our eyes – and the way it’s so hard to predict – fascinating. So let me know your thoughts and leave a comment below!

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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Thoughts on new social network Path: as a user and as a marketer

After months of rumour, new social network Path launched Monday. We’ve been playing with it a bit. It’s early days to make a lot of comments – and I suspect until I reach a critical mass of friends it’ll remain difficult to comment. Obviously though, I’m going to comment anyway.

Path calls itself the “The Personal Network”, because unlike Twitter, which encourages users to aquire large numbers of ‘followers’, it limits your personal network to just 50 users.This isn’t just being churlish though – it’s based on the thories of Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford Robin Dunbar, who reckons that 150 is the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships“. By limiting to 50, the guys at Path figure that your network will be limited to your closest friends and family and so there will be a high level of trust in the network. So far, so laudable.

But what does it actually do? Well, it’s a suite of apps (the Monday launch was the iPhone app, I would assume Android and other platforms will be available soon) that focus on sharing photos with your group of close friends. Basically, it uses location services to allow users to give their photo three pieces of contextual information: people, places and things.

Path

So I can take a photo, tag one of my Path friends to it, use geo-tagging to say where it was taken and state the ‘thing’ which could be a noun (‘notebook’, ‘garden gnome’, ‘traffic light’ etc) or a verb (‘walking’, ‘partying’, ‘dancing’). Then I share it with my Path network. That’s it. No sharing across other social networks, no comments or ‘likes’ or hipstamatic filters, just People, Places, Things.

As I said, so far it’s kinda fun – but I need more friends to truly see how much fun it’ll be, so time will tell. One thing that strikes me starightaway though, is that the extremely personal nature of the network means that there isn’t an obvious ‘in’ here for brands. You can’t ‘broadcast’ if you can only have 50 friends, and I doubt brands would lavish the time and attention needed to maintain a social network presence on just 50 individuals – no matter how big fans they are of the brand.

On the other hand, for smart brands, there might be an opportunity. If you’re willing to give one of your limited friend spots to a brand, you have to really love them. Marketers could use Path friendship as a serious level of reward for the most engaged and dedicate fans of a brand, and friendship could come with a whole host of benefits for those lucky enough to be one of the 50. And 50 uber-advocates could be worth their weight in gold.

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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