A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

Below is the full, slightly edited text of my December 11, 2012 interview with Path co-founder and CEO Dave Morin. See this profile of Path for a summary version of Morin’s remarks.

Xconomy: Imagine we’re speaking in front of a crowd of people who have never heard of Path. Which you probably have to do once in a while, though not here in Silicon Valey. What is it? Why would they want to use it? What does it bring to the mobile world that’s unique and valuable?

Dave Morin: We designed Path for I guess two very simple reasons. One, my cofounder and I wanted a simple way to create a journal of our lives. So one of the core components of Path is this ability to capture important moments in your life. And so we provide you with a bunch of unique utilities to do that. Then the second big part of Path is sort of sharing that with the people who matter to you in your life. So, we really focus a lot on close friends and family at Path.

The analogy I like to use is that, you know, we call Path a more personal social network. The analogy I find fits best is if Twitter built the news network and Facebook built the cities then Path is trying to build the homes. When you think what a home is like, it’s a trusted place. The conversation that you have around the dinner table with your family is a much different conversation than the one you would have out in the public square or in the workplace or on a news channel. And so, we really try to focus on creating that kind of sense of very personal, very intimate environment where people can trust that the information they share, the photos they share, the other information they share, is only going to be going to the people they trust the most and care about the most.

X: Right. There’s an aspect of Path that wouldn’t have been possible, though, until fairly recently, right? You couldn’t have built it, in its current form, before 2007, certainly, because that was when iOS came on to the scene.

DM: Well, yeah, I guess that’s the third thing, which is that Path is mobile only. And a big reason why we actually focused on close friends and family was that as we began to study mobile very closely what we found was that people only communicated with a very small number of people using their phones. If you look at somebody’s favorites list on their iPhone or their Android people have to have five to 20 favorites on their list, at the very maximum. We thought it best to design specifically for that set of people, rather than all the people that you know in your life. So we find a great sense of focus out of that.

Thinking about how people use their mobile phones—most people’s real lives with their real friends, when you leave work on a given day, you will actually pick up your mobile phone, and you will open up text messaging and you’ll send a message to your close friend and say “Hey, what are you up to.” The world of close friends is lived in real time. Nobody schedules a meeting with their closest friends. So we kind of think of Path as being this completely real-time, completely personal network for your personal life. We think that’s a really valuable thing to be building in the world.

I guess our macro vision is that we can focus on mobile, and we can focus on a more personal social, network, and we can focus on helping people capture all these moments, but if you tie it all together what we are really trying to do is just bring people closer together. And we think that by building this, families, close friends, people that care about each other will become closer to each other. We think that’s really valuable.

X: Is there one of these components of the vision that was sort of the driving thing, or uppermost in your mind when you were starting out? Were you mostly concerned about how to build an intimate social network, or were you more interested in the personal journal aspect? Because a journal isn’t necessarily about sharing, it’s more about capturing.

DM: Yeah, I think that, I suppose the network aspect was the most interesting to us, because without it people have no incentive to create a journal or to really share anything. We think there’s value in a pure utility, there’s value in having a nice place to put all your memories and stuff, but if you add the component of the people that are your support network—the people that you trust the most—then sharing all the experiences of your life and getting feedback and having this intimate conversation with you all the time, in your pocket, seemed like a really powerful thing. So we look at it as a yin and a yang. There is not one without the other and they kind of perpetuate each other.

The idea that you have this sort of path through life, all your experiences in your life in one system, and the people you experience things with and the people you care about most deeply, shared experiences are what bond people, they are what build relationships, it’s really what brings people closer. So the two together, we think, really are what make the system work. Without one or the other it wouldn’t work.

X: Did you come at this with a pre-existing theory about the ideal size of a social network? Obviously there is all of the scholarship, the anthropology, the Robin Dunbar stuff, so there are ways in retrospect to justify having a limit of 50 or 150 or whatever it is. But did you have a theory about that, or was it more like instinct?

DM: A combination, I guess. I had worked in social networks for long enough that there was some sense of instinct. I actually used myself as a guinea pig for many years, while building Facebook and the early days of Twitter. I used to go to different sized friend groups and share very personal information, and not personal information, and all these things. I would do a lot of testing and I guess I spent enough time doing that that a lot of this has become instinct.

But I would say that my general theory, since you asked, on Path and what we’re trying to do here, is that less is more. That is something you will hear quite often, and you can talk about science and all those things, but I think if you ask any human how many close friends do you really have, how many deep relationships do you really have, even with like certain parts of your family or close friends network, which people are you becoming close to, if you ask that question, it’s pretty easy for … 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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