Micro- and supermicro-size social networks aren’t competing directly with Facebook or even with one another. Conceivably, one could be active on all of them. But then we may bump up against a new neurological limit: the maximum number of social networks that the human brain can handle.
We’re big proponents of social networking in correct context; that’s why we focus on mapping real-world relationships that can happen in an offline context. A recent crop of successful apps, including Pair (for couples) and Path (for <150 friends), is attempting to narrow the focus of sharing beyond Facebook or Twitter size.
The fundamental insight varies based on each app involved, but centers around two concepts: an ability to fit specific contexts for certain relationships, and an overall cognitive limit on the number of close relationships.
Pair is all about keeping the context exclusively on one most-important relationship in life, usually a romantic one. A shared wall is all about co-creation; pictures too cheesy for Facebook, messages and in-jokes that wouldn’t fit on Twitter. Features like a shared sketchpad and “thumbkissing” vibrations seek to make it possible to feel the other person through the device.
Path, on the other hand, combines many of the best portions of Facebook, Foursquare, and Tumblr, but tries to increase engagement by limiting to close relationships. Originally, the founders had set the maximum friend count to 50, the postulated number of close relationships in the Dunbar theory in sociology, but later increased to 150 (the maximal number humans keep in consistent memory in the same theory). You know how much better it feels when a close friend likes a Facebook status or tags you in a photo? That’s all Path does.
These services haven’t monetized yet, and in fact making money on intimate moments might be difficult. But they are striking a chord with many users, and as smartphone-only networks might be pointing to a new future in social.
And in providing some weighty semantic meaning to the word “friend” in a social network - are you a Path-level friend? - they might have value outside directly selling ads.
[Quote above from a nice New York Times piece yesterday.]