Home' Technology Review : May June 2012 Contents Q&A
TR: Why do people feel the need for
a more private, more limited social
Morin: If you ask people why they
didn't put all the photos on their phone
on Facebook, they say, "They're too
personal." But people e-mail and text
these photos to friends and family. The
volume of that kind of sharing is really
high, and we want to make that more
Even today, whether they have 10
friends or 100 [on Path], people still
say to us that they need more privacy.
Why does it have to work only on a
People actually communicate with a
very small set of people using their
phones. You text and call and share
with your inner circle.
[And] I really buy Steve Jobs's
notion that the future of computing is
these things that we carry around in our
hand. The future is not just phones; it's
wearable computers that give you more
data about your everyday life. Our job
is to be a trusted place for that data and
to give you beautiful visualizations and
stories to add to your path about it.
Path has a very striking, polished
design. Why was that important?
We felt that the Web was a very cold
and utilitarian place, oftentimes. One of
our highest design goals was this idea of
a home. Your personal life exists inside a
home, and there's this feeling of warmth
and love that comes through being
inside it. Mobile provided an opportu-
nity to create this warm, colorful, deeply
intimate place that you could trust.
You have to make money, but you
say you're opposed to the standard Web
model of using everyone's data
to personalize ads.
We look to Asia, where a lot of net-
works, [such as] Mixi in Japan and
10cent [in China], provide a free ser-
vice but allow you to personalize your
experience in ways that users are will-
ing to pay for. For example, we have a
bunch of free photo filters, and then we
have a series of paid ones. We want to
say "Make your experience better---pay
us directly" rather than "Give us all your
data and we'll work with advertisers to
get messages in front of you that you
might not care about."
What happened in February? An earlier
version of your app didn't automatically
upload users' contacts to your servers.
Then you made a decision to add that
The decision was based entirely on
simplicity. We developed an algorithm
that we call FriendRank, which looks at
contact data [and] uses machine learn-
ing to figure out who might be your
family and closest friends. Most social
networks provide you with "Click this
button and invite your entire address
book," which spams everyone. We were
using technology to crunch the data
and present to the user who we think
they should connect to.
But you were taking contact data from
devices. You thought people would be
okay with that?
Yeah. And frankly, at that point it
wasn't clear that people weren't okay
When it became clear that this really
bothered people, the only right thing to
do was delete it all. We did it a day after.
We created a dialog that says, "To help
you find your close friends and family,
we have to upload your contacts to our
A very large percentage of our users
[have now] opted back in. In [the lat-
est version of Path] we go a step further
and we encrypt the whole set of data.
Even if we wanted to look at it or we
were hacked, it's safe.
Facebook and its competitors have
given us virtual social circles
unlike our real ones, lumping in
work acquaintances alongside old friends.
Dave Morin, an early employee of Face-
book, launched his own company, Path,
in 2010 to o er a social network just for
close friends and family.
Path users can add only 150 people to
their networks, and they access the ser-
vice exclusively through a smart-phone
app that evokes a personal journal. They
log their "path" through life with photos
and updates on where they are or what
music they're listening to, all while read-
ing about the paths of their friends.
Path has attracted over two million
users and $11 million of investment fund-
ing. But the company was accused of
violating its users' privacy this February
when a blogger discovered that its iPhone
app copied people's address books onto
Path's servers without asking permission.
Morin, 31, a respected figure in Silicon
Valley because of his history at Facebook
and recent record of investing in promis-
ing startups, was forced to apologize.
Technology Review IT editor Tom
Simonite spoke with Morin about that
incident and the benefits of private social
Photograph by TIMOT HY ARCHIBA LD
The creator of a social network
for close friends and family says
smart phones will make comput-
ing more intimate than PCs did.
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