Path’s Competitors Aren’t Facebook And Twitter, They’re Email And SMS Says Dave Morin

“50 is the perfect number of friends” Dave Morin found when looking at the usage of his personal networking app Path, as he explained in his talk at TechCrunch Disrupt SF. Add more than that and people start asking to be able to share to certain subsets of friends — the exact privacy controls that confuse and slow down other social networks.

With that audience size in mind, Morin created Path. There was LinkedIn for professionals Twitter for sharing with the world, and Facebook for communicating with all your friends. “But the one thing that was missing was something focused on family, on your closest friends.” These people were opting to share photos through older mediums instead of the newfangled tools. That’s why Morin told us “Our competition isn’t anyone else in the social networking world, it’s SMS and email.”

Staying Intimate

On stage, Morin explained how people are more comfortable sharing personal moments when they aren’t broadcasting to distant acquaintances. “Path is the home inside Facebook’s city.” Championing Path’s respect for privacy, Morin noted “when you go outside, you’re under a different set of rules.”

In Path version one, people were limited to just 50 friends, and most had far fewer. But when it launched Path 2.0 and upped the limit to 150, most users settled at around 50 of the most important people in their lives, and sharing ramped up. He told me afterwards that this follows Dunbar’s theory of how many relationships we can maintain. There’s your 5 best friends, 15 closest friends, your 50-person personal network you can really trust. Next is the much noisier and anonymous 150 friend group.

The 50-friend formula seems to be working, as Path now has over 3 million downloads with half of those users actively using the service. It’s also a hit abroad in China, which has become Path’s second biggest country.

Mobile, Or More Accurately, Mobiles

Regardless of which social network you use, Morin said that communicating our true selves all comes back to the fact that computers aren’t stuck on the desktop anymore. He declared “the mobile device is the most successful technology platform in history. There are more mobile devices than toothbrushes, more than the computer by a factor of four.”

The message was clear. Mobile is no passing fad. It’s completely transformative, and everyone from startups to city leaders can’t afford to make it an afterthought.

And it’s not just about your phone. Morin observed “we’ve gone from carrying one computer to carrying multiple computers — your iPhone, iPad, Jawbone Up on your wrist, what Google’s doing with glasses. There’s an incredible opportunity with the amount of data being generated to give people an understanding of their lives and [help them] make better decisions”.

By creating a compelling and frankly beautiful way to share, Path is gaining access to a uniquely intimate data set, from how far they can run to when they fall asleep. Maybe it will be Path, maybe it will be a hub that aggregates quantified self measurements from a variety of devices, but someone’s going to turn all this data into life-changing realizations for the user, and industry-changing insights for businesses.