The year-old semi-social network app Path is getting a major update that adds scary but interesting automatic life-tracking features, as well the capability--finally--to share Path items with larger social networks.
A refresher: Path was designed as a mobile service that lets you Facebook, nor a broadcast platform like Twitter. It's designed to keep you in touch with your family and your close, intimate friends only.in your life with only your closest friends. It's not a wide-open social network like
Path now makes that even easier and, in my opinion, more enjoyable. The new user interface on Path is extremely engaging. Now every sharing activity hides under a single button. And Instead of being good at just sharing photos and videos, now Path is equally adept at sharing thoughts, places you're visiting, and when you're asleep or awake. (It also lets you share music, but it's less good at that, since it can only tell what you're playing in the phone's music player, not on Spotify or other services.)
The fascinating, scary, and fortunately optional new feature of Path is called "Automatic." The app knows where you are and can automatically update your Path stream with significant location changes, once it learns your routine. If you hang out in a new neighborhood, or you're driving and stop in a city you've never been to, Path will create a location update. When it spots you at a new airport, ditto.
You can also tell Path when you go to sleep and when you wake up, and it will create an update with that data, and additional clever story-telling. Sleep for two hours and it might say you, "need coffee." Snooze for ten and it could say, "Ready to attack the day!" Path has a novelist on staff, I'm told, to keep these little items fresh.
Path CEO Dave Morin told me that tweaking the algorithms that figure out when to update, and which update "story" to use, are under constant development. Siri, he says, is paving the way for mobile apps with personality and smarts. "AI is the new UI," he says.
Posting automatic updates about when you're stopping for grub or grabbing some shut-eye might seem like trivia or over-sharing, but Morin maintains that in Path's tight networks of real friends, it's not. This information is not irrelevant when it comes from your best buddy or your spouse.
But it certainly is TMI when it comes to sharing with friends of friends, or those long-lost Facebook contacts you last saw in grade school. So while Path will now let you share out the items you post intentionally to Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare (Tumblr is coming; but Google+ still has no API), it won't share the Automatic updates.
Morin says that Path 2.0 will post "natively" to these other social platforms: It'll use link-shorteners for items it puts on Twitter, and will post natively to Facebook's photos, for example. So you could, theoretically, use Path for sharing everything, from your intimate updates to Path friends to your broadcasts out to the Twitterverse.
On the business side, Path is fundamentally different from Facebook. It's a freemium play, not a media model, Morin explains. Path is free, but there are up-sells: you can buy music tracks via the music sharing function, and Path gets a cut. And you can purchase real-time photo and video filters if the defaults aren't enough for you (hello, Instagram). I'll be surprised if these make Path a big business, and expect to see additional up-sells when those two offerings don't do the trick.
Path data is "private by default, forever," Morin adds. The company will never, he says, sell your data to advertisers. While Morin admits that, "We wouldn't be able to exist without Facebook," which paved the way for the use of real names and activity sharing on the Web, he does not believe that the media model is the best or only way to run a business oriented around personal interconnections. "There are no ads at the dinner table," he says.
Morin says that the service has about 1 million users. "That's better than Foursquare, Quora, or Pintrest got in their first year," he said when I asked if he was happy with that number.
I'm not sure that even my closest friends want to know my sleep schedule. But I am still looking forward to trying this app. It's what Facebook tried to do with its new Timeline, but done right, and with a far superior mobile experience.
Path 2.0 is due out today on iOS and Android.