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Path’s Moment in the Sun Has Finally Arrived

Path, which was founded by former Facebook developer David Morin and Napster's founder Shawn Fanning, launched in late 2010. While it got a lot of good press in its early days, it didn't quite take off either. At the end of 2011, though, Path launched version 2 of its iPhone and Android apps and the buzz around the private social networking service has been growing since. In a market that is over-saturated with general social networks like Facebook and Google+ and specialists like Instagram, Path has managed to find its niche in private sharing among a small group of friends.

While Facebook has devalued the meaning of 'friend' and Google hopes you want to organize them into neat little circles, Path makes you deliberately focus on just adding people you really want to share with by restricting you to 150 friends (that's up from 50 in the original version). I hadn't really thought about Path much until version 2 launched – and even then, I mostly regarded it as a gimmick. During LeWeb, though, it became increasingly clear that the service was on to something and during the last few weeks, Path comes up in virtually every conversation around hot startups (the other being Pinterest).

Why Now?

When Path launched in 2010, many pundits heralded this as the beginning of an age of more private sharing – a logical conclusion, given that it was around this time that Facebook was pushing people to share their lives more openly. The app was a bit ahead of its time, though.

What changed? With smartphones being even more ubiquitous than ever, Path's phone-only strategy only feels natural, while it felt a bit forced in late 2010 when the app launched. Of course it helps that version 2 of the app is likely one of the best-designed app for a mobile phone, but more so than that, I think we've finally reached a turning point where users are getting tired of the old social networks and are looking for something fresh that's easy to use and where they can be themselves without having to worry about what a future boss may one day discover about them on Facebook.

Path's Niche Could Become Mainstream Soon

By focusing on sharing photos, ideas and your location, Path also ensures that everything you do share is shared deliberately and about you. There is no link sharing on the service, no resharing of posts or anything else that distracts from its main mission.

As such, Path fits neatly into the current social networking ecosystem, as Google+ and Twitter are mainly places to share links, animated GIFs and pithy quotes, Facebook remains the mainstream social network for the mainstream and Instagram is the place to share your pictures. Path is free of marketers and brands that want to become your friends. It's a liberating mix of a private Twitter feed, Instagram-like photo-sharing and Facebook-like voyeurism without the Farmville updates.

Given enough traction, though, it's not impossible to think that Path could become a very big player in the social networking world – even though (and also because) most of the activity on the service remains hidden to the public eye.

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