A free photo-centric social sharing app called Path was launched early this week by a familiar face in social media: former Facebook Platform Manager Dave Morin.
Just don’t call it a social network, though. Path – unlike Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn – is being positioned as “the personal network”.
According to its San Francisco-based founders, Path is the place where “you will always feel comfortable being yourself and sharing the story of your life with your closest friends and family via the photos you take every day with your mobile device.”
Sounds like Facebook Photos or Flickr – but there is this twist: with Path, you can only have up to 50 members in your network. Fifty and no more.
That’s right. At a time when Facebook users are sharing bits and pieces of their lives to up to 5,000 friends, and where people are tweeting all kinds of information for thousands and thousands of followers to see, Path is going the other way, forcing its users to share their personal photos with no more than 50 people: a less social activity, sure – at least in terms of sheer numbers – but a more personal and meaningful one. Or at least the company hopes so.

“The personal network doesn’t replace your existing social networks – it augments them,” reads the official blog post on the launch of Path. “(And) because your personal network is limited to your 50 closest friends and family, you can always trust that you can post any moment, no matter how personal. Path is a place where you can be yourself.”
Why 50?
The number is based on research conducted by Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar, who says that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships that the human brain can sustain at any given time. He also suggests that personal relationships tend to expand in factors of roughly 3, so “while we may have 5 people whom we consider to be our closest friends, and 20 whom we maintain regular contact with, 50 is roughly the outer boundary of our personal networks.”
So it looks like the idea behind Path is validated by serious mathematical stuff – thereby making “over-sharing” impossible. More than that, though, it has gained the support and backing of a long list of angel investors, tech entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley insiders, and even Ashton Kutcher. Morin’s co-founders? No less than Napster co-developer Shawn Fanning and Macster co-creator Dustin Mierau.
So far, the app is focused only on sharing camera phone photos. There are no “comments”, “likes”, “friending”, “following”, or “retweeting”. One, however, can add context to these photos by adding tags for people, places, and things. (“Dinner with college friends Jessica and James at Lou Mitchell’s.”)
The idea of a personal network instead of a social one is intriguing enough (“quality over quantity, right?”), but we’ll have to wait and see how the company plans to expand the features of Path. (Text updates, perhaps? Location-based sharing a la Foursquare?) Sure, masses love the idea of exclusivity (and being one of the few), but right now Path is no more than a photo-sharing app for a network of fifty.
Path is available as a free app for the Apple iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can still register using your web browser.