Dave Morin Says Path Photo App is About “Making the World a Happier Place”

On Sunday, San Francisco startup Path launched its photo-sharing app for the iPhone, and by Tuesday night it had already climbed to the number 5 spot in the Lifestyle section of the iTunes App Store. iPhone users seem to appreciate the new app, which is designed to let users share candid photos and a few bits of context (“Lunch at the office,” “Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge”) with a small network of friends—no more than 50, in fact.

“I don’t want to share my life with the public or all the ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ I have on Facebook or Twitter,'” one user commented in the review section of the store. “Those services are good for other things. For sharing personal memories, this app is perfect.”

That’s exactly the kind of reaction the creators of Path must have been hoping for. Dave Morin, formerly Facebook’s senior platform manager, co-founded the company earlier this year with Napster creator Shawn Fanning and programmer Dustin Mierau, with investment support from early-stage venture groups like First Round Capital and well-known individual investors such as Ron Conway and actor Ashton Kutcher. Morin told me in a conversation Monday that Path’s mission is simple—“making the world a happier place”—and that one of the easiest ways to spread happiness, nowadays, is to share personal moments with friends via camera-phone pics. But not just with any friends.

Path’s premise is that the moments you’ll share will be more meaningful if you know they’re only going out to a small circle of actual friends—your “personal network,” to use the startup’s lingo, rather than your Facebook-sized “social network.” Path is far from the only photo-sharing app available to iPhone users (alternatives like Instagram and PicPlz have also been getting a lot of ink in the tech blogs lately) but it’s definitely the one with most highfalutin theoretical grounding. In an essay for the Huffington Post on Monday, Morin argued that personal connections lose their joy and authenticity in groups that exceed Dunbar’s Number (150), and that for this reason, neither Facebook nor Twitter are great places to cultivate a trusted circle of close friends. “The personal network isn’t vast (we actually limit it to a subset of Dunbar’s number)—but it is powerful,” Morin writes.

Of course, whether it’s feasible to build a successful venture-funded mobile startup 50 people at a time has yet to be seen. Xconomy was the first company on Path’s list of media calls Monday morning, and I got a chance to put a few of my own questions about the company to Morin and Path’s vice president of business development, Matt Van Horn, who previously ran business development at Digg. I’ve transcribed our conversation below; Morin joined the interview near the end.

It was clear from the talk that Path is about more than just the iPhone, and more than just photos. Morin and Van Horn seem to see big possibilities in helping people share experiences within small communities. Expect Path, over time, to broaden its definition of “experiences” and the ways they’re captured and shared.

Xconomy: There are plenty of social photo sharing apps in the iTunes app store and plenty more on other platforms. What made you guys feel there was room for another photo sharing app, and what is the unique vision that makes Path stand apart from all those other apps?

Matt Van HornMatt Van Horn: I think one of the key things we’re going for is we’re not trying to be another photo blogging site, but we’re interested in building what we call the personal network. Our first stab at that is photos, and that’s the mechanism that we’re using to share and capture moments right now, and adding context around that. But our ambitions are still to build a more personal network.

X: So would it be a mistake to say that Path is mainly about photo sharing?

MVH: Obviously it’s about photo sharing right now. You share photos on Path right now with the closest friends in your life. We see our service as very complementary to the other services in the space. I don’t think we’re directly competing with anyone else doing similar things in the space.

X: But I think you’re implying that the idea of a moment is something you could capture in any number of ways—and right now it’s in the form of photos, but there are any number of ways you could create a documentable moment and share that. Is that a fair characterization of what you said?

MVH: We’ll explore any opportunity or any idea that comes our way. Right now, it’s just photos. But long-term, who knows what spaces we could … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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