Path Explores Ways To End Awkward Friendships: It's Not You, It's My Bot

"Maybe we can just help you not be connected with that person," says Path product head Dylan Casey.

With a 150-friend limit on the mobile social network Path, who you select as your friend—and who you don't—could be the difference between a warm show of intimacy and a personal slap to the face. But a new solution hinted at during SXSW could finally end the awkwardness of curating our relationships online.

Organizing friendships in the digital space has long been a significant challenge for social networks, and companies ranging from GroupMe to Google have worked to find an adequate solution. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once even called it the "biggest problem in social networking." During a talk with Fast Company at SXSW, Path product head Dylan Casey dreamed up one answer to the issue: "auto-degraded friendships."

Rather than have to self-curate our own networks, Casey envisions a time when Path could remove a friend from your network automatically if you begin to lose touch. "We actually think a lot about the kind of social pressures that come from friend requests from people that you may or may not want to be that connected to, but you feel some other type of obligation to them," Casey says. "How do you deal with that? People feel a lot of tension around [this], and it's interesting because I don't think we have a problem face to face deciding who we want to spend time with. Imagine you are at a social event or in a bar, and there are a number of people who you know. You choose who you want to spend your time with. But on social networks, there's a completely different dynamic."

The problem is not only that it's difficult work to curate your own networks—or tiring in the case of Google+ Circles—but that there can be other social or professional consequences for friending or de-friending someone online, like, say, when you choose to unfollow a coworker on Instagram or ignore your aunt's request to join your Facebook network. "These days, it's kind of okay not to respond to someone's email because you can kind of blow it off like, 'Oh yeah, I get thousands [of messages]. It's not personal,'" Casey says. "I think we socially accept that on a social-policy level. But if you send a friend request and I don't respond to it, especially on a network that only has 150 friends, [you'll be] like, 'Hey, what's the deal? We went out to dinner the other day.'"

One possible fix? The ability to have online friendship requests or friendships simply auto-degrade—just fade away—if there isn't the proper level of intimacy. "We spend a lot of time thinking about," Casey continues. "Maybe we can just help you not be connected with that person…I imagine that over time that model will evolve to accommodate the social pressures around unwanted friend requests."

Casey stresses that this solution is "not something that we're planning on building anytime soon," but adds, "I think is a challenge we're still trying to figure out. I think if we can figure it out."

He adds, "I think it's more along the lines of like, 'Hey, listen, you really haven't talked to [him] in a while; are you sure you want to continue sharing all your baby photos with him?'"

[Image: Flickr user José Manuel Ríos Valiente]

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  • Rhys Thomas

    I thought that the point of a social network was to help keep you in touch with people not decide when you should lose touch? Facebook has already ruined that idea  by mainly showing you updates from the people you interact with the most and losing the ones you don't. Maybe I would interact with them if I knew they had posted something but Facebook decides that I don't need to know so the option is gone. Path should not go down the same route. It's better than that.

  • George Dy, Jr.

    It's two sided. Yeah, you can auto-degrade your friends or so-called friends, but perhaps you want to continue hanging out or rekindle a relationship that once was much stronger than it is now. Shouldn't Path help promote that behavior and not let you lean on old friends (habits)?

    The analogy is very one sided. If there is someone you're closer friends with, then its' more likely that you'll want to hang out with that person in a personal setting. But perhaps this other person you'd used to hang out with has lost touch with you, does this discredit the idea of ever becoming better friends with this person again?

    People lose touch with friends and old friends all the time. Shouldn't Path be smart enough to, instead of saying "you haven't checked-in with this person in months, we'll remove them," suggest that you hang out with them?

    I think interpersonal networks are much more complex than this and Path should be a way to curate friendships and find the best ones that suit your lifestyle. No?