Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review of Path 2.0 - Smart Journal App / Social Network

(Pardon any typos, grammatical errors, logical errors.  I wrote this blog post in one pass and now have to wake up my 2-year old daughter from her nap.  Will edit more later.  -Howie)

This is a review of Path 2.0, which was released a couple weeks ago.

Like some of you, I signed up for Path 1.0 back in 2010, but didn't do anything with it.  It seemed interesting, but I just didn't spend the activation energy to try it out, recruit friends, etc...

As background, I'd say that:
1) I am "fairly social", but not extreme.  I post to Facebook maybe a few times a month (950 "Friends"), and have started getting more active with Twitter (600 Followers, 650 Tweets (many of those in the last few weeks)).  I have a dormant Google + account which I rarely check, and I have about 2,000 LinkedIn Connections.

2) I would also say I'm a "very active" photographer, I take over 10,000 pictures a year (mostly of my family), though that number is skewed since for any particular shot, I may take 5-15 continuous shots to try to get just the right facial expression from my children, with the intention of only using 1 picture.  I shoot with a Canon DSLR (50mm lens), though since I got an iPhone 4S, have started taking of my pictures with that.

So, my conclusion of Path first:

I think Path is an awesome app.  I really like their "Smart Journal" tagline, and their sophisticated, yet simple, user interface.

What is the problem it is solving for me?

Two of them
1) Problem finding a good journaling app

I have dabbled with keeping a journal over the years.  From handwritten journals (filled 3 books) in college, to using Microsoft OneNote, to keeping notes in GMail, to trying sites like "OhLife" and "IDoneThis".  None have stuck.

Path has done a really good job of making it easy to journal.  Photos, videos, music you're listening to, who you are with, where you are, and of course "status updates" or "thoughts" as they call it.

It has been simple and fun to journal.  I also find that I appreciate some of my "moments" (as Path calls them), more.  Somehow the act of journal-ing throughout the day makes me more mindful.  If you are a parent of young children, you know how easily it can be to get lost in the fuzziness of minding your children's needs.  Seeing my thoughts on path, even just minutes after they have occurred, make me pause and think "wow, that was a great moment". Like a picture of my kids playing in front of our lit Christmas tree.  Or us all sitting down to dinner as a family.  Small things that go unnoticed.

How many people share this problem of not having a good way to journal? I'm probably in the minority of people that "like to journal" and so I think this is a great feature of the app, but am unclear how widespread a "problem" it is for others.

Summary: Path is a journal app I actually like to use.

2) Problem sharing small moments with my wife, family, and close friends (aka "loved ones")

I think this is a bigger problem that many people have.  You want to share a picture with your wife of your kids playing in a puddle.  Right now, if you're like me, you probably text that picture to her.

Or, you want your parents to see photos of your kids.  You might send an email to a blog (I use a password protected Blogger) and have them look at it.

Before Path, I found that sharing these moments was fragmented and disjointed.  After Path, I have found it to be coherent.

You might ask "How is sharing on Path different than Facebook?"
Two ways:
1) Hard to say no to Friend Requests: Facebook, the way I use it, is more than just "loved ones".  It's new friends, old friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and students of mine.  So, anything I post on facebook feels like a "big announcement" and I don't think everyone wants to a video of my kids playing in a puddle, or a picture of us all sitting down for dinner.   But my loved ones are more likely to appreciate something like that.

I know some people use Facebook to capture all of their daily moments (i.e. use Facebook as a journal), but I find that uncomfortable to see if I'm not close to them, and I usually "hide their posts".

2) Facebook amplifies what you share.  Facebook, philosophically, likes to broadcast things as much as it can.  Remember that up until recently, Facebook defaulted all posts by new members to be open to all to see. Even now that they have more controls, they still err on the side of getting more people to see what you are posting. You post something thinking just your Facebook Friends will see it, but somewhat mysteriously, your friends of friends will see it.  Even with their supposed "simplified settings", I have lost my trust that Facebook is really limiting who sees what from my posts.  Also, if I post a photo versus post a status update, I think Facebook applies different filters, and it just leads me to post less and less on Facebook.  I tend to save my Facebook posts for "big announcements", like "Our baby arrived" and things like that.  I think a lot of other people tend to save Facebook posts for announcements, too.

So how does Path do these two things differently?  
1) You only can "friend" 50 people, so that scarcity is meant to have you be more selective.  My experience is that it does have that effect.  I still feel badly saying no to someone's friend request, but I'm more comfortable with it.

2) Path doesn't amplify things.  In fact, their web functionality is so limited that if you see a post on their website, you can't see any other posts from that same person.  They are very intent on keeping your trust that only the people you specify will see what you post.

Conclusion of my user experience:
Path helps me feel more connected to my loved ones. I interact with close friends a lot more on Path.  It feels like we are having an ongoing conversation.  Like I know what they are doing at work, or what they are doing at night.  I see things on Path that I would not see them post on Facebook.

Sure, before Path, I already interacted with close friends a lot, maybe sharing a funny link or video, or just plain old getting together and having a beer.

But Path makes it easier for me to have a window into their day on a more consistent basis.  For example I know that one friend:
1) Lost a work lottery for an iPad (so close!)
2) Played Rock'em Sock'em Robots
3) Made a smiley face out of his Chick-Fil-A sliders
4) Did a brainstorming white board session for a fundraiser he is helping with
5) Listened to Eye of the Tiger the other morning.

Theoretically, we could talk about all of these things over a beer on Saturday night. But, for me, it's more fun to known about them as they happen.

And then you multiply that times a few friends, and you are keeping tabs on several friends in a more intimate way.

And then you add in friends who are across the country (Seattle) or the world (Singapore), and then you are sharing your life with them in a way that you can't quite accomplish over a beer (even if you have a beer while using Facetime every so often).

Here's some other thoughts I have on Path:

Twitter vs Facebook vs Path
Twitter - public discussion
Facebook - semi-private announcements with a little discussion
Path - private, intimate discussion

Path vs GroupMe
I've only used GroupMe a little, but it feels like it's very synchrounous whereas Path is asynchronous.  In other words, if I send something out on GroupMe, it feels like it should be acted on now.  Like "we're all heading to the movie." or "meet us at the restaurant".  With Path it's more relaxed, like you could not check it for a day and then just see everything your friends posted.

User Acquisition
I'm a little worried about this.  Facebook, being so social and amplified, made user acquisition easier.  Your mother has heard of Facebook dozens of times before they finally say "ok, I'll try this".

With Path, you're more of a missionary, trying to convince loved ones to try it out (unless you are in Silicon Valley, in which case your close friends probably heard something about it).

So far, from what I can see, Path makes money selling some filters for their photos.  There was one I bought (The Grid), but I find it a little hard to think this will be scalable enough to pay the bills.

Ads - will people be ok with ads a la Facebook?  My hunch is yes.

Freemium - could Path be free for all like Evernote, but with a $45 a year fee for premium stuff?  My hunch is yes.

In App purchases (beyond filters) - could Path create In App purchases that are more compelling and bring in more revenue?  My 5-year old son was playing a game and I bought him a $14.99 In-App purchase this morning. If a racing game can compel someone to do that, I would hope that a meaningful app like Path, that has all of my personal posts, can do something like that.  Maybe something like Blurb or the old version of Pixable (before their recent pivot) where I can print a Year in Review book?

I really like Path.  Hope it can get enough money and users to make a sustainable business.

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