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  • 11.23.10

The Echo Chamber of Secrets

How the newly-launched Path network may be too insular for its own good.

New private network Path launched last Monday with much public acclaim and even more whitespace.

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(I’m sharing an image of my Path profile with you so as not to broadcast any personal ‘moment’ of my Path contacts–I mean, closest friends.)

Despite what you may have read, Path isn’t based on reciprocal relationships. After all, Path Founder Dave Morin knows
“that if you are sharing with a single person you do not trust, you
will not feel comfortable sharing.” So relationships are asymmetrical,
at least for now, and the service nails the friend etiquette with a mute
button option (“pausing” in Path parlance) for those oversharing close
friends who still need to feel part of your circle of trust.

Explicitly
an implementation of Dunbar’s number, this is an acknowledgment of
filter failure from the former Facebooker, even as those sprawling sites
remain the best proprietary identity providers (Path users have asked for and will soon be able to find friends through Facebook and Twitter).

Whereas Instagram
may work because your boring photos are filtered through forgiving
lenses into handsome snapshots and painlessly broadcast through branded
urls, Path wants us to reconnect with fifty people who actually care
about our boring photos.

More
than that, Path records attention in an alarming notation beneath each
image next to a small blue eye reminiscent of the CBS logo (the red Path
logo also leans heavily on the Phillies logo, but that’s a discussion
for another time).

Which
of your friends ‘saw this,’ is the way Path hopes “you will see which
of your friends have seen the moment in real-time.” Like iPhone 4’s FaceTime, which recalls David Foster Wallace’s “videophonic stress” from Infinite Jest, induced
by listeners having to pay rapt, undivided attention to the caller, the
omniscient Blue Eye, let’s call it, introduces an even lower barrier
than a ‘like’ click on a post.

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My views are being tracked (without my
knowledge the first time) in the ‘saw this’ metric, ensnaring even the
lurkers–a simultaneously frightening and brilliant feature in terms of measuring adoption of a product all about trust.

Now
I do know if you “saw” my update or not on this new, additional network
that we are told will “augment” my other social networks. Will Path
make my other social networks greater–as in, more delightful? Or does
it just increase the quantity of social networks I must now attend to as
a good digital caretaker does? (Prediction: We will likely see celebrities
increasingly employ a digital assistant as the privilege of
online popularity consumes ever-taller piles of time.)

In the Path launch video,
our hero updates his profile; “Nervous at Home,” then scrolls
through images of moments with his love. As he scrolls through the Path
updates, images open into the moment itself–we meet Sarah Young running down
the beach, adjusting her shawl at the opera, walking the dog while a
city bus rolls by.

Path offers a white canvas, but reveals that only you
have the context of that actual moment (and can remember what happened
before or after the image), so it’s unclear how the service advances or
“enables…storytelling.” Our hero’s reverie ends with a text from Mom
(“Well?”) that appears on top of the Path app; quickly pulled back to the present moment, he moves from
the couch to grab the ring.

The real question: what’s a girl gotta do to get into our hero’s top fifty? Really, she wouldn’t see your update, Romeo? Trust.

Kristen Taylor is the founder and CEO of Galvanize. Follow her on Twitter.

About the author

Founder of Galvanize.us, a geolocative mobile application launched in September 2010 to help friends hide and find real gifts for each other. Editor and founder of Saucy Magazine, a new food + story quarterly publication.

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