Why the World Will Beat a Path to Path

12/20/12Follow @wroush

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who sees your data when you post it. In contrast to Facebook, which has a 5,000-friend limit, your network on Path is capped at 150 people, and most users have far fewer. Morin says Path is really built for sharing between family members and close friends—and that as a result, people share images and other posts that are far more personal and meaningful than what they’re putting on Facebook or Instagram.

“The analogy I find fits best is, if Twitter built the news network and Facebook built the cities, then Path is trying to build the homes,” Morin says. “When you think what a home is like, it’s a trusted place. The conversation that you have around the dinner table with your family is a much different conversation than the one you would have out in the public square or in the workplace or on a news channel. So we really try to focus on creating that kind of sense of very personal, very intimate environment where people can trust that the information they share … is only going to be going to the people they trust the most and care about the most.”

Morin says Path has two predominant types of users. The first group he labels “premium Internet users,” the sort of people who have tried every social networking system ever invented (BBS, ICQ, IRC, Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) and just want a minimalist way to share experience with a select group of contacts. That includes “quite a few celebrities and journalists and CEOs, venture capitalists, people who are very privacy-conscious and they have a public life and a private life and they really want Path to be the thing for their private life,” Morin says.

A Path search feed on an Android smartphone

A Path search feed on an Android smartphone

But equally important is the “family user”—the person who has family members dispersed all around the country, just as Path’s co-founders do. (Morin is from Montana, Mierau is from northern British Columbia, and Fanning is from Massachusetts). These members use Path mainly to share mundane, everyday moments.

“We call it celebrating the ordinary,” Morin says. “By doing that together as a family, the whole family becomes closer. It brought our families closer together from the first beta, the first version, so we knew that use case would be very powerful. I get an e-mail probably every day from somebody who says ‘I never had anything in my life that has brought my family closer together than Path. Please never let it leave the world.”

Path’s Founders Really Care about Design

In a world where there are 700,000 iOS apps and an equal number of Android apps, there are a lot of horribly designed apps. It’s inevitable, because good design is costly and time-consuming. When Apple screens apps for inclusion in the iTunes App Store, it clearly isn’t trying to impose its own design sense, or else it would approve far fewer of them.

Path, by contrast, is a gem of good interactive design. And it’s not just me saying that. Fast Company nominated Path as a finalist for its 2012 Innovation By Design awards, and the app won in the Best Design category of TechCrunch’s 2011 “Crunchies.”

I interviewed Morin in his personal conference room at Path, which is filled with books by designers like Dieter Rams, prints by artists from Jasper Johns to Hugh MacLeod, and famous artifacts of industrial design from the Polaroid SX-70 instant camera (1972) to the first iPod (2001—the one with a scroll wheel that actually rotated). I asked him how long he’s been thinking about design. “Oof, I don’t know,” he answered. “My whole life?”

Morin says his grandfather, a longtime executive with the International Ski Federation, went on frequent trips to Switzerland and Germany and often brought back presents like Leica cameras, Swatch watches, toy Porsche cars, and Braun clocks. “So I was exposed to designers like Dieter Rams really early on when I was a kid,” Morin says. “I think that that spurred a lifelong interest in design and design thinking and just trying to understand what makes a product not just beautiful but functional.”

Morin says he and Mierau wanted to start a company that had “a true appreciation and respect for design, and making decisions design-first.” Eight years into the Facebook era, Morin says he doesn’t see a lot of this kind of thinking in the world of Web-based social networking, with its focus on … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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