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Off the Beaten Path

My first choice for the title of this rant was originally: “The Antisocial Network.” However, a quick Google search of the phrase revealed that I would in turn owe an apology to Paul Krugman (an intellectual equal, really) as I would evidently be recycling the headline of his New York Times Op-Ed from merely two days ago. The topic of this entry, my first on Lifehacker’s Kinja platform, is vastly different from Dr. Krugman’s, however, and thus the title was changed.

A little over one year ago, I realized that not remembering my life’s minutiae was bothering me. I was annoyed not recalling where I ate lunch on Monday or what I did after work on Wednesday - that same week! I began searching for a utility that would help me keep track of my life. I considered Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter as the obvious three first choices. All three unsurprisingly failed to provide the total package. My focus was not on sharing my experiences, or live-blogging them to my friends, rather, I was searching for a new age diary - a diary on steroids. Instead of painstakingly writing all of the events and experiences of the day out on a blank piece of paper, I wanted to check into them, immortalize them through pictures or quick blurbs and sentiments. After some research, the platform that carried the most promise was Path. A beautifully designed application that seemed to allow for privacy, offered Foursquare’s ability to check into venues, mimicked Twitter’s versatility, Instagram’s photo editing features and Facebook’s multi-media capabilities. It did not seem imperative to grow my network on Path, if merely for the fact that not many of my friends were actually using the platform. I wanted to remain without friends and Path allowed me to do that. Many incredible moments were recorded using the application - without pressure, censorship or worry about whom I would inadvertently offend, confuse or mislead through my feed activity.

At first, I recorded every meal, every location and every memory. It was glorious. My goal was to sit down at the end of the year and review all of the events from the 365 days that were now behind me. After a few months of active use, however, it became apparent that the makers of path had a different idea about the utility of their application. Rather than providing tools and add-ons that allowed for event mapping, or succinct chronological summaries of the users activity, the focus was elsewhere: Create a competitor to Facebook. Improvements were made to the messaging functionality and in-app purchases of “stickers” and photo filters were touted. Little attention was paid to “Moment” search, organization or analysis.


My quarrel is not with the design or the simplicity of the beautifully crafted Path platform, it lies with the apparent surrender of the strategy. Rather than searching for differentiating parameters and functionality, the motto seemed to become “How do we cash out?” That birthed Path’s biggest survival gimmick: stickers. Fancy emoticons that are for sale. This honestly strikes me as the idea of a finance person who was charged with finding revenue but did not prepare for the monthly sales meeting and just blurted out the first thing that came to mind when it was his turn to speak. This is a huge miss and cannot be the way to ensure the company’s sustainability.

The target should be the singularity. The network of one. Provide tools to track one's entire life, and always default to private. Allow users to compile a set of moments, pictures, experiences or check-ins that they have already logged, and then, if they choose to, share them through beautiful collages, maps and graphics. The true brilliance of a platform like this to me would emerge after a weekend trip where I checked into every restaurant I ate at, took photos along the way and continuously jotted down memories and brief anecdotes throughout. When I returned home, I would have the option, but not the obligation, to share that experience (or parts of it) with my network - and here’s the kicker: Not only my Path network!

A question I have asked myself each time a new version of Google+ was released was why I am not actively using this beautiful application? The answer has always been the same: Because nobody else uses it and therefore nobody else can share in these moments with me. Facebook remains the main tool for so many of us because it holds the throne as our largest network. This may be different for different geographies and age-groups but the idea is the same: Users don’t flock to the most beautiful or innovative social network, we will always favor the platform that we already have the most connections on.

The majestically designed Path should not aim to compete with that - it should embrace it. Embrace memories and moments being recorded without fear of judgement or the ever-present question of “will anybody care that I am sharing this”. Give your users the tools to edit, beautify, re-imagine and hand-select specific Moments and subsequently share the meticulously crafted final product via the social network of their choice. The end result would be the pure, glorious freedom of self-expression and openness... or alternatively, the pure, glorious freedom of capturing life experiences without compromising privacy. The perfect (anti)social network back on its righteous path.

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