Path: The magic of missing links

Path released their social networking application / platform back in November 2010 to a lot of buzz, followed by a collective shrug. It wasn’t really clear how to use the service, or what its value proposition was relative to the other social networks where people were already spending their time (e.g., Facebook and Twitter). In late 2011, they completely redesigned their iPhone application and expanded the number of users allowed in a given network, and things got more interesting. Usage exploded.

Gizmodo ran a great article explaining many of the virtues of Path, outlining why it’s different than some of the other players in this space, and why it might be the quiet "interface of intimacy" and "triumph of banality" that set it apart. One thing I realized after reading the article, though it wasn’t stated explicitly, is one of the most important features of Path in my opinion: no links. People don’t share links on Path.

The application doesn’t prevent you from sharing links. You’re free to manually type them into your status updates. Two key things in Path (which I’m sure were explicit design decisions) stop this from being useful:

  • It’s hard: Because it’s a mobile-only application (no web or desktop apps), it’s harder to figure out what link you want to type, and then hunt-and-peck on your mobile phone trying to get it right. No cut and paste from your browser tool bar, no right-click-to-copy a link then paste.
  • Links are not "clickable": Even if you type a link, Path does not autoconvert links into actionable URLs (i.e., that you can tap on your iPhone), nor can you copy-paste them, which means you’d have to transcribe it manually into your mobile browser.

Ok. So no links. What’s the big deal? Respecting human connections and your precious time is the big deal.

No links means pure, in-app consumption of the personal moments in your intimate network. You don’t need to go anywhere else; it all happens right in the context of Path, and every moment shared only takes a moment to view. In social networks like Facebook and Twitter, people are constantly sharing links to things you need to read or watch or listen to. There’s an inherent inequality in link sharing, because it only takes me 5 seconds to share a link, whereas it might take you 5 minutes to consume it. This sharing inequality adds to the information pressure and time-suck in our lives. More to read. More to watch. More to listen to. None of us need more time-suck. Path recognized the implications of sharing links and kept them out of the stream.

In a world where we can be more connected through technology, it often winds up driving us apart. It’s easy to waste time pursuing a flood of links, time that could have been spent with the people who matter to us. Path has given us back some of that time.