How Path Is Becoming A "Smart Journal"

Path steps away from the "photo-sharing" category and firmly joins the emerging rank of apps--from Facebook to Erly--that are devising ways to create digital scrapbooks of our lives.

When Path launched a little over a year ago, many people were puzzled: Why would an app that was about sharing photos let you only share with 50 people?

Now, with the launch of v2 of the app, we have the answer: Path, which now calls itself a "journal," isn’t about photo-sharing at all, in the conventional sense. It’s about capturing your most personal moments and sharing them with others. Creating a safe place to share photos (and videos) with just a small group of people was a first stab at creating a much more comprehensive--yet entirely private--place to document, and share, one’s life with those closest to you.

As such, Path steps away from the "photo-sharing" category and firmly joins the emerging rank of apps--from Facebook to Erly--that are devising ways to create digital scrapbooks of our lives.

The new version of Path, which is available on iOS and Android today, expands the number of things you can share to include notes, songs you’re listening to, your geographic location--even the times you go to sleep and wake up. But it keeps the "friend" limit to 50.

Path CEO Dave Morin tells Fast Company the new version is "a smart journal"--a place to document the moments of your life, in all the forms they come in.

"We talked to a lot of users about how they were using Path," he says. "They were screenshotting apps that they like a lot and taking that screenshot and putting it into their Path."

Users, Morin says, would take screenshots of the songs they were listening to on their iPods, of personal health apps with interesting visualizations, of their achievements on games--and post all of those to Path.

The new version of Path makes it easier to share those moments. "We’re basically providing a modern journal," Morin says.

Morin actually calls it a "smart" journal. It doesn't only rely on user input, but it can also automatically capture some elements of the user's life and post them to the person's stream--like where you are geographically.

While many apps are wrestling with ways to capture and organize the reams of digital flotsam we’re producing and how to archive all of that in a way that makes it as easy and delightful to retrieve as pulling a photo album off a shelf, the approach of Path, which has one million users (about the same number as Foursquare in its first year), is unique. Among its peers, it’s the only one that staunchly believes that personal moments are private, and an app that allows you to capture them should be designed to give you the same warm, intimate feeling you get when you're sitting in your kitchen telling stories to your nearest and dearest.

Speaking of his pre-Path sharing experiences, Path cofounder Dustin Mierau tells Fast Company, "anytime I shared anything with a group of friends, it was a cold experience. It didn’t feel right."

"When you’re at home, talking with friends and family, that’s a very warm experience," Mierau says. "A product that’s meant for that group of people should have that same feeling."

Which is why, at least for now, Path is keeping its limits on the size of your network (currently set at 150 people).

"Path is like your dinner table," Morin says. "It's comfortable. You don't think you're going to be judged. You have truly intimate conversations and experiences."

"But if one person joins that conversation that you're uncomfortable with, it changes the entire experience."

Read also: A Former Facebooker Forges A New Path (App)

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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