BBC News

Social gets personal as new network limits friends

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

image captionThere are plans to offer paid for premium features at a future date

A former Facebook executive aims to turn the world of social networking on its head by making it more personal.

Dave Morin's new company Path has launched a photo-centric social hub that limits the number of friends you can have to 50.

The aim is to enable more effective communications with people who are part of your trusted enclave.

It contradicts the ethos of most social networks which includes loose acquaintances and colleagues.

Path focuses on photo-sharing using mobile devices to let users share not just pictures but also memories and their daily activities via their iPhone or iPod touch.

"We believe the future of the internet is going to be more personal," Mr Morin told BBC News.

"It took organising all the information on the web by Google and making it social by the likes of Facebook to get us here where personal is the next phase."

Path aims to capture the daily moments in our lives, he said.

Mr Morin said he was inspired by a talk given by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-winning economist who has studied the nature of memories, particularly their relationship to happiness.

"Our ultimate mission is to make the world a happier place and we are trying to architect a product that brings happiness," said Mr Morin.

The magic number

Path arrived at the idea of limiting users to a network of 50 people following research done by Oxford University Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar.

image captionThe Path app is free and now available worldwide

He espoused that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships that the human brain can sustain at a given time and that 50 is roughly the outer boundary of our personal networks.

Facebook's approach and that of other social networks from Bebo to MySpace and Google Buzz is at odds with that thinking.

While the average user on Facebook has 130 connections, power users can average 1,000.

These relationships map your social graph offline and include friends, family, work colleagues and loose connections of people you 'friend' because they know someone you know.

"Facebook set out to be a social network of the real world full of friends and acquaintances together," said Mr Morin.

"Facebook is about society and I think the need we are seeing at Path is that people still want to share more and share more openly with the people they trust the most and that is why we put this 50 limit on the service."

Path's vice president of business development Matt Van Horn said it sees itself as a complimentary service alongside the Facebook's and MySpace's of the world.

"Networks have grown to become too large in scale and that means people start sharing with people they might not trust or truly know. That influences their sharing behaviour and changes entirely what they are willing to post and share online" said Mr Van Horn.

At the time of speaking to the BBC, Mr Van Horn had 3,171 friends on Facebook and 42 on Path. Mr Morin had 2,666 Facebook friends and 48 on Path.

Making money

Those involved in Path are not too concerned that Facebook, the world's biggest social network with over 500 million users, could launch its own pared down service.

"We plan to play nicely with Facebook," said Path's Mr Van Horn.

Indeed one of the investors in Path is Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook.

Among the Silicon Valley heavy hitters who have invested in the company are super angel investor Ron Conway who also invested early in PayPal and Google.

Digg founder Kevin Rose is also involved as is Salesforce boss Mark Benioff and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher. Company co-founder and chairman is Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster.

A free app for Path will be coming to Android phones and the BlackBerry soon said the company.

Path said at a later date it will also be adding premium services that users can pay for.

"We fundamentally believe (from a business standpoint) that customers are better than users," said Mr Van Horn.

Photo-centric Path faces plenty of other competitors in the photo sharing field.

Instagram and PicPlz are two companies that have recently received a lot of publicity while Flickr is a long standing favourite and Facebook is the largest photo sharing site on the web.

More on this story

  • Do smaller networks make better friends?

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