Social networks have two main uses: sharing content for your friends to consume and consuming content that your friends have shared. When it comes to social networks, my main choices have long been Twitter and Facebook. I also use Foursquare, but I don't really think of that as a "social" tool as much as just a good way to find interesting places to go or eat at nearby and to see tips that other people have left at those places (ie, menu item recommendations at a restaurant). But this past week I've been using Path, which has made me think more about how I use social networks. Before using Path, I posted content primarily to Twitter, and then it was automatically posted to Facebook. Other than the occasional photo album, I almost never posted directly to Facebook. I consumed content separately through Twitter and Facebook. In my mind, however, Facebook has always had a bit of a stigma where someone who posts a lot is seen as being annoying, or as crowding their friends' news feeds. Twitter doesn't have that same trait, probably due to the fact that you sometimes can't say what you need to say in just one tweet and have to spread it across multiple tweets in a row. This is a little bit ironic, actually, because on Facebook today if someone posts a lot you're likely to only see one or a few of those posts thanks to the news feed algorithms, whereas on Twitter your followers have to scroll past every one of your tweets.
Because of this discrepancy, I sometimes wished that I could more easily post content selectively to just Twitter instead of both Facebook and Twitter. This is part of why I started using Path: each time you post, you can select to also send that post to any combination of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Foursquare. This is convenient because Path is designed to be just for your close friends and family, so you can put all your posts there and then a subset of them can be sent to Twitter and Facebook.
At least, that's what I thought when I started using Path. What I realized by the end of the week is that I've really never shared anything on a social network that I actually expected any degree of privacy for. My Twitter feed is entirely public, which is how I want it--I like having a version of my stream of consciousness that anyone can see if they want to know more about me. On Facebook I have more than 500 friends, all of whom I at least know but a large percentage of whom I wouldn't really consider "friends" and who I don't expect to afford any degree of privacy to anything I post there. So I effectively consider my Facebook to be public as well. Probably for the best, since it means I've never had to deal with their terrible privacy settings.
Path is for a different type of content, content that is really designed to be just among your close friends. And certainly Path would work great if you could post a lot of content, of which some small amount you also wanted to make public through Twitter and Facebook. But since I've never shared anything online that I expected to be private, I really didn't know how. Pretty much everything I posted to Path I also posted to at least one of Twitter and Facebook. If I were to make Path a more regular part of my typical social sharing, I would need to justify it by actually sharing content that I would only want my close friends to see. The more I think about it, though, the more I question the value of such an app. Generally, when I want to share something with close friends, I just text or IM them.
So for now I'm gonna go back to primarily using Twitter and Facebook. Path makes sharing everything fun, but just not practical. While I love the idea of trying to model a social network based on strong real-life friendships, I'm not convinced it's possible. If I had to pick 5 of my best friends I would say that those five relationships are each so different that there's no way to come up with a model that's even nearly as good as simply talking to each friend individually. Maybe there's some sweet spot--your best 25 friends? 40? 15?--where content can be very personal but still appropriate for all of those friends and easier than talking to all of them separately. I have no way of knowing until Path has a larger user base. Until then, see you all on Twitter.