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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Path Is Trying to Define Your Inner Circle

Dave Morin, a former Facebook executive, helped found Path in 2010 because he felt that people needed a smaller, more intimate social network of no more than 50 friends and family members â€" the people truly important in their lives.

It was a deliberate contrast to Facebook, where your list of “friends” might easily top several hundred people, including business associates, college roommates, former lovers, neighbors and distant relatives.

Now Mr. Morin, Path’s chief executive, has concluded that 50 is still too many people with whom to share your most personal moments. The real ideal is five to 15 people, he says.

“Our worldview has always been concentric,” Mr. Morin said in an interview this week in Path’s glass-walled headquarters on the top floor of a San Francisco office tower. “Inner Circle is designed for those people that you’re spending a lot of time with.”

It’s a problem that other social networks are also struggling with. The Google Plus social network is built on the principle that all your friends and acquaintances should be sorted into groups, with whom you then share information. Facebook, which has nearly 1.2 billion users, initially favored more openness but has over the years added a host of privacy controls that allow users to sort their friends into groups like “close friends” and “acquaintances” and share items just with a specific group or even with particular individuals.

But fiddling with such settings is daunting to all but the most determined users.

Path is trying to make the process much simpler for its users, who now number around 20 million, up from five million less than a year ago. You simply go through your list of friends and click on a star next to the names you want to add to your inner circle.

Mr. Morin hopes that more privacy will bolster the number of times that people use Path daily, which averages about 19 now, up 130 percent over the last year.

“This is far and away our most requested feature,” he said. “Our highest-level goal of Path is if we give you this trusted place, you would share more.”

The privacy settings are not the only new features coming Thursday.

The social network, which has had a strict “no advertising” policy since its founding, is adding a premium membership option to help bring in revenue.

So far, Path’s main source of income has been the sale of photo filters and packages of electronic stickers â€" cute, hand-drawn images that users can send one other to express emotions â€" that are grouped in themes like having a baby or travel.

Now, users will have the chance to buy a premium membership for a couple of dollars a month, or $15 a year, to get full access to all sticker packs and filters and a special badge next to their name showing they are premium-level subscribers.

Mr. Morin said that Path has studied the paid users of the note-taking service Evernote and the game and chat services offered by Asian Internet companies and concluded that if even a small percentage of Path users pay, it will make a big difference to the bottom line.

The company is currently trying to raise a round of venture financing from investors at a level that would value it at $300 million or more.

Path is also continuing to seek new users, especially overseas, where growth has been especially strong in France, Indonesia and Latin America.

On Thursday, it is announcing a partnership with Deutsche Telekom in Germany to offer the premium service free for a year to all of the company’s 37 million mobile and 22 million fixed-line customers.

A special version of Path will also come preloaded on Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which was unveiled on Wednesday.

“The simplicity of the user interface is quite nice,” Mr. Morin said.