Social Media Takes Anti-Social Networking PATH With Napster Founder

Social Media's  'Wisdom of Crowds' originated based on the premise that consensus on any topic would surface if there was a large enough pool of voters. It was the medium's democratic core that attracted people in large numbers to networks such as Twitter and Facebook. At this juncture, is there any possibility that the pendulum could swing back to a more intimate interaction with our follow man? One of Napster's previous co-founders seems to think so.

Path, while calling itself "The Personal Network," one might also think of it as the "anti-social network" based on limiting one's followers to 50 of your closest and dearest. Why 50? Well apparently Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford has deemed it so. Dunbar claims that while 150 is the maximum number of social relationships any human can handle, that 1/3 would be the number you could REALLY trust, and be willing to share with.

While Napster founder Sean Parker went on to Plaxo and Facebook fame after the Napster music piracy Shawn FanningShawn Fanningmodel fell apart, his fellow co-founder Shawn Fanning has played around with start-ups such as Snocap and Rupture, neither of which having reached the height of notoriety as Napster. When Rupture was acquired by Electronic Arts for $15 million, Fanning's tenure with the company was short-lived.

A few months after being laid off, he started work on Path in early 2010, with Dave Morin, an ex-Facebooker. Together with Macster Dustin Mierau, it's taken the trio almost a full year to launch their mobile application for iPhone. Designed to share photos with your 50 designated friends, the platform's other anti-social network feature is that it doesn't interface with Twitter, nor Facebook. So you can't tweet out links to your photos or share them on Facebook.

While the rationale for exclusivity initially sounds appealing, I personally feel that Fanning's Path is shooting itself in the foot by creating a walled garden. In the last decade, while many of us still rail against privacy malfeasance and Facebook's Open Graph has received a lot of criticism in making our lives an open book - going to the other extreme of only sharing things with our closest friends - seems very "old school."

According to Erick Schonfeld at Tech Crunch, he admits while, "there are times, of course, when you don't want to share a photo widely with the world - those are the exceptions." He describes Path as, "oddly passive for a social app - you put up photos, see other people's - and that's it - no discussion allowed."

Interesting enough, as the 'shiny new thing,' Fanning's reputation has been able to attract some high-profile investors that include ironically Ashton Kutcher - who less than a year ago was bragging that he could attract 1 million Twitter followers faster than CNN and Larry King. Additionally, Silicon investors Ron Conway and Tim Draper have helped seed the network, along with Saleforce CEO Mark Benioff, Kevin Rose of the flailing Digg social bookmarking site and Dustin Moskovitz, one of Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard roommates who helped found Facebook.

Right, wrong or indifferent, the 'path' most of us have taken with social media is to mix and mingle with the 'wisdom of crowds' while we share information that previously would have been kept private. It has turned many of us into crowd followers and crowd pleasers - something I derogatorily referred to as "Groupthink" just a little over a year ago.

However, as time goes on, and we begin to reanalyze how and what we share, I think while we still need a system of cross-checks and controls, our definitions of privacy will continue to evolve towards more transparency - and we will not be willing take a step back  - similar to what Fanning et al have proposed. Haven't we come too far to have the pendulum swing back to that extreme.

Your thoughts readers? What do you prefer - openess or exclusivity - or is there room for a combination of both?

Nov 17, 2010
by Anonymous

Private networks

Interesting article. I think that there is probably space and a possible need for a series of private social networks.

For example, an extended family may want to share a reunion or holiday experience.

But then I ask myself the question, are we not already desensitized and used to being transparent to the extent that we don't need a walled garden? Why do I mind that you reader see me on the beach? Jury is out. Look forward to trialing the Path app. More thoughts at

Jun 29, 2011
by Anonymous

I don't really think that

I don't really think that people will be interested in limitations. People like freedom to use an application the way they want to.

And if this is just a photo-sharing app that you can post photos on and have no discussion - it seems like we already have that - Flikr - oh wait - you can post those other places AND discuss them.

I think this will be fail. I predict a successful launch with people like Ashton Kutcher promoting it - but usage will drop off quickly.

Personally, I don't want another sign in to remember and site to have to log onto each day when photo sharing is available in several other places with more control over what can be done with the photos.