Social network offers 'smart journal' users a revamped Path
In an unforgettable scene from AMC's "Mad Men," Don Draper pitches Kodak executives on an advertising campaign for their new slide projector.
They want to focus on the technology. He's loaded the carousel with family pictures and the emotional pull of memory.
"This device isn't a spaceship," he tells the suits. "It's a time machine."
And that's exactly what the founders of Path are trying to build: a smartphone app that is more powerful than memory alone, that becomes a digital vehicle for recording memories so users can roll back through time and return to places that in Draper's words, "we ache to know again."
Dave Morin and Dustin Mierau have distilled that idea into a new version of the Path app for iPhone and Android. They call it a "smart journal" for the smartphone. Think of it as a modern take on the moleskin diary that travelers used to carry in their pockets to jot down notes about the places they had been and the people they met.
Morin and Mierau say they took their cue from their some 1 million users who have turned Path into a handy way to document their lives -- screenshots of songs playing on their iPods, notes to friends or themselves, photos from weddings and road trips -- and share pivotal moments with a tight-knit circle of friends and relatives.
"People have this deep desire to remember things, to remember their lives. It's a source of real happiness for people," Morin said. "It's the participation of your friends and family in the story that's exciting."
Path is looking to cement its bond with users by rolling out an updated version of the app. The app has been redesigned to be easier on the eyes and make stuff easier to share.
Users can also now share and check in on other networks such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. And a new feature called Automatic does exactly what the name suggests: it automatically notes changes to your daily routine, such as traveling to a new city, and updates your social circle, essentially becoming a journal that writes itself. (You can turn it off if that's not your thing).
Still, Path has yet to live up to its promise as a new kind of social network.
People often say that they want privacy as they gripe about Facebook pushing them to share more information with more people. But is that what people really want?
So far, Path has yet to catch on in a big way. It's early going but Path is still an ant in a land of social media giants. Facebook is the world's largest social networking site with more than 800 million users and an initial public offering coming soon despite concerns over privacy. And Google's new social network, Google+, has already attracted millions (in part by using its mighty presence on the Web and in part by giving users a new way to segment friends in "circles").
So Path is casting a wider net. At the time it launched a year ago, Path let users designate only 50 friends. Path has now upped that limit to 150 friends, but even then lets people accumulate more friends if they want.
Path pitches itself as a social network that is more exclusive and private than Facebook, an antidote to an era of online openness in which people routinely broadcast the details of their lives to friends and strangers alike.
Morin, a former executive at Facebook and Apple, is betting that people crave more intimate interaction with a much smaller circle.
Path users post snippets and snapshots that over time create a "path." That means your friends and family can see your life through your eyes. The concept got early traction with high-profile investors. Path even turned down a $100-million buyout offer from Google.
-- Jessica Guynn
Images: Screenshots of Path include U2's "Beautiful Day" being posted by a user, and friends and family commenting and sharing emotions on a user's post. Credit: Path