“50 is the perfect number of friends” – But whom do we call a “friend”?

http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/10/path-competitors/

In times of Klout and the measurement of social media users’ communication influence, many users are trying to expand their network in order to be ranked higher and to improve their online reputation. The idea that particular those influential users are attractive for companies in terms of employment and free companies’ benefits drives this development. However, this development raises the question of the basis motivation of being engaged in a social network such as Facebook: many users want to stay connected with their friends and want to keep them updated about their life. But do we want to share our very personal photos and thoughts with hundreds of people we might barely know, but who helps us raising our online reputation?

The mobile social network app “Path” fits into this niche by giving users the opportunity to share their private life with their closest friends and family. While LinkedIn focuses on business related information and Twitter serves as a mass communication instrument, Path is a way to share photos, videos and information to a very intimate circle of friends. According to Co-founder Dave Morin in his talk at TechCrunch Disrupt SF summarized by Josh Constine on TechCrunch, 50 is the perfect number of most important people a user has. And this is reflected in the concept of Path: in Path 1.0 an account was limited to 50 friends. However this limitation was expanded to 150 in Path 2.0. Morin explains that according to Dunbar’s theory, people have 5 best friends, 15 closest friends, and 50 close friends. The interesting phenomena however is, that it seems that although the limitation was set higher, most of the users settled at 50 friends. Do social media users get finally tired of building subsets of friends on their social media accounts to control their privacy when sharing information? By following this approach, Morin states that Path is rather competing with Email and SMS since these are still the most personal communication channels we use for our friends and family.

This shows that the social media market becomes more fragmented and that the way we communicate changes. But to some point it raises the question in how many networks users want to engage. Maybe it should make users think about for what reasons they are using particular social media platforms and what information they want to share with whom. Perhaps we have to re-define the term “friend”?

With over 3 million downloads Path has become increasingly popular since its launch in November 2010. Morin highlights the important development towards mobile and how particularly the mobile usage enables this way of personal and intimate communication. In the end of his article author and interviewer Josh Constines gives an outlook how huge the amount of intimate data due to mobile communication in social networks will become, and that it will eventually lead to new opportunities for understanding the user. But do users want to share this private information such as at what time they wake up and how far they can run within a social network to be better understood? Or will we always stick to the old ways of communicating very private things with our friends and family by using traditional channels such as Email and SMS?

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