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Small communities = honesty and participation: Path and Communispace

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to a new social network called Path that limits users to a maximum of 150 friends. What I originally thought would be just another “app-of-the-week”—something I’d use a few times and then never open up again—turned into something I’m using daily to keep up with friends’ lives.

Users of the sleek smartphone app interface can:

  • Share photos and apply filters to them (like another of my favorite apps, Instagram)
  • Check-in to locations (like Foursquare)
  • Tag friends, “smile at” and “love” others’ posts as well as comment on them (like Facebook)
  • Post short status updates (like Twitter)
  • Share what song they’re listening to (like Spotify or Pandora)

In some ways, Path serves the same functions as other social networks out there. What makes it different is its scale. The network currently limits users to a maximum of 150 friends—much fewer than the number most of us have on Facebook, for example.

The app’s creators say their goal is to help users develop a high quality network to connect more deeply with their friends and family. They’ve based the network’s 150-friend limit on work by Prof. Robin Dunbar, who has suggested we have a cognitive limit to the number of people we can each maintain a stable, social relationship with.

What makes Path’s approach to relationships so appealing is therefore one of the same reasons our small, private, online communities generate so much participation from members: the limited number of people in each of our communities creates a place where members share details they wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing on Facebook or a public message board.

At Communispace, we keep our communities to a group of 300-500 people to allow us to get to know our community members well (and to know each other well, too!) and in return, they give us a peek into some of the most intimate details of their lives. On Path, I know my posts are shared with small number of friends—an intimate environment where I feel comfortable broadcasting where I am, what I’m thinking and who I’m with at any time.

Recent research we’ve conducted has supported this approach, and the idea that small, private, curated experiences are proving more appealing to many people than big social media. This is partially driven by a rise in privacy concerns, prompting users to cut back and screen out unwanted friends and noise. However, we’ve also seen that more generally, people disclose things in small, private communities that they don’t want to share with their Facebook friends: from what’s in their medicine cabinets to what their shopping budgets are.

Internet users have become skilled at creating identities for each of the social networks they participate in—identities that don’t always reflect their true selves. But in a small group that more accurately reflects your real-world social circle, you’re much freer to be yourself.

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