Mike Isaac

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With New Version Refresh, Path Doubles Down on Growth and Engagement

As the self-proclaimed “personal network,” Path is in something of a difficult position. Unlike a Facebook or a Twitter, the network limits its own viral growth, as it is private by design. You’re held to a maximum of 150 friends. If you’re not in someone’s network, you can’t see any of their activity or details. Inviting others is possible, though not a prominent feature.

Consider Path 2.5, the start-up’s largest version update since Path 2.0 launched last November, the company’s move into giving the private network a higher profile. Launched Thursday morning, the version refresh adds a slew of new features aimed at making the network accessible to those not already using it, lessening the learning curve for newcomers and improving existing features for its current users.

Take, for example, the attention paid to updating interactions and invites. If you want to connect with someone who isn’t on Path, you can send him or her a personalized invite via email or SMS, complete with your own recorded voice message. For those already in Path, you can broaden their network by suggesting new friends to your existing ones.

As the product has evolved over the past year, Path CEO Dave Morin told me in an interview, there have been a number of different use cases: Exclusively family-oriented, family and friends, and then the uber privacy conscious. Path’s job, Morin said, is to follow those different use cases and reach the different demographics through new iterations of the product, like the one we’re seeing in this latest release.

But he is quick to assure that in following the growth, Path is sticking to its original — private — guns: “Our values are to speak to this sort of intimacy,” Morin said. “And we never compromise our values.”

New initiates aren’t left in the dark. The update also brings what Morin calls an “unboxing experience,” essentially a guided tour of how to use the app upon first downloading it. It’s hand-holding to the extreme, in line with the company’s “personal” philosophy.

The other major part of the update fights against another challenge inherent in a closed network: Engagement. Sharing inside of Path means using Path’s set of tools, but many users may find they already rely on other sharing apps. For example: While you may already use Instagram for photos, Foursquare for check-ins and Evernote for note-taking, Path has its own camera, check-in and note-taking features that you have to use in order to feed its network. If users are already hooked into using other apps, that means duplicating the action to share it inside of Path.

That’s why those tools are improving over time. Photos will display in full-bleed in the stream (akin to a recent Facebook product update), and the camera tool has more filters, faster photo-capture accessibility and an actual cropping function. And in addition to sharing what music you’re listening to, you can post what you’re reading or what movie you’re watching. Google loyalists may also rejoice; Path’s Android app has been rebuilt from the ground up, optimized and better-designed after Google’s recent release of the Android Design style guide.

Of course, tools are only good if they’re used, and Path obviously won’t thrive if there’s no activity within the network. That’s where the new “nudge” feature comes into play. If you’ve noticed that a friend hasn’t posted any updates within the app for some time, you can “nudge” them, or request that they create a specific moment — be it a new photo, a location check-in or a comment. Nudges beget user activity, and that activity feeds on itself.

All of this is not to say that Path’s is a dead network. Quite the contrary, according to Morin: Over the past two weeks, Path has seen more organic growth than in the entire history of the product — even more than when the app relaunched with version 2.0. He didn’t give me any specific numbers, but assures that growth is massive.

Still, despite this growth, Path can’t rest on its laurels. It has the unique problem that only closed networks like itself and Nextdoor must face: How do you toe the line of pushing forward and accelerating growth while touting privacy as your flagship feature?

The answer, it seems, is simple: Empower the user, and let them do the work for you.

“It’s always been an evangelistic sort of product,” Morin said. “So we need to put those tools into the hands of people who want to evangelize.”

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