“Private” social network Path is conducting a test involving “a very small group of users” by raising their friend limit to 500. It was first revealed on Twitter by Indonesia’s social media figure Enda Nasution. This is not the first time that Path has increased this limit as it was originally set to 50 friends when it was launched in 2010.
Path’s original 50, and later 150 with Path 2.0, friend limit was conceived based on a research in Oxford by Professor Robin Dunbar which found that individuals at any period in time can only have a meaningful relationship of any kind with up to 150 friends, five of which are the closest. Path explains its 150 limit on its support page. In its entirety it says,
Here at Path, our goal is to help you develop a high quality network to connect more deeply and share personal moments with your closest friends and family. We are inspired by Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar, whose research delves deeply into the number of trusted relationships humans can maintain throughout life.
We tend to have 5 best friends, 15 good friends, 50 close friends and family, and 150 total friends. At Path, we’re building tools for you to share with the people who matter most in your life. Our intent is to nurture quality relationships to offer you the comfort to share all your personal moments.
So much for that 150 “people who matter most”.
By increasing the limit to 500, Path is saying goodbye to that goal of nurturing quality relationships. It’s throwing out the findings of the Dunbar research which had been the company’s anchor for the past four years. Path is in effect becoming a mobile clone of Facebook, only in red instead of blue.
This move is reminiscent of what Friendster did around a decade ago when it originally capped connections to 500 friends. In Indonesia at least, it was common to have multiple Friendster profiles, especially among public figures or celebrities who wished to allow as many of their fans to connect with them directly.
After some resistance from the company, it eventually removed the limitation and allowed a single profile to have more than 500 immediate connections, but at that point, it was already too late. There was no way to merge all those separate profiles and content and Facebook was on the rise. After losing popularity and relevance to Facebook, Friendster eventually shut down in 2011 and purged all of its past existence before being revived as an online gaming network.
Path user and filmmaker Raya Fahreza has a personal cap of 25 friends. Back in 2012, he said, “In a world where people go for quantity in sharing, Path reminds us of quality even more than Twitter. I see Path more like that secluded corner in the cafetaria where we hang out with close peers only”.
Today however, he’s less enthusiastic about Path’s direction. On the idea that Path is raising the limit to 500 friends, he said, “I simply think this will make Path even less different than many social media/network… risking a “why bother” in the end. The certain “private place” vibe is gone.”
According to Fahreza, the cap limit is what makes Path appealing in the first place. “The faster [Path] loses its differentiating aspect, the sooner people will get bored of it”.
Advertising industry veteran Glenn Marsalim, who shares with 141 people, said, “with more friends allowed, it’s going to be just the same as the others such as Facebook. I treat Path as a personal diary that I share with selected friends.” He added that Path is “going to lose its charm” if it goes ahead with the plan.
UX researcher Naning Utoyo has a slightly different opinion. As far as she’s concerned, raising the limit is not necessarily going to change much since Path now has the Inner Circle feature which essentially creates Path within Path. Inner Circle lets people hit the limit but still maintain a smaller sub group in which they can more freely share deeper personal stories.
“I don’t use inner circle”, claims Marsalim. “What’s the point? Path is already my inner circle”. While that is the thinking among many Path users, Asmara Wreksono, head of communications at Creative Hothouse said that more people will end up using Inner Circle. “The exclusivity will disappear but the effect is Inner Circle will get more use”.
Utoyo said, “there are people who tend to approve just about anyone into their Path network , like [guys] who approve [friend requests from] girls or others who let in more guys than girls. Maybe this will work out for those kinds of people”.
The email from Path in its entirety:
As you may know, currently on Path you can have up to 150 friends. As Path has grown in popularity, we’ve begun to frequently receive user feedback asking us to increase the friend limit.
We are currently running a product test to a very small group of users where we increase the friend limit from 150 to 500. As part of this group, any friends you add over 150 can be kept even if the program ends. And we may reach out to you every once in a while to ask for your feedback about the product experience.
Your friend limit has already been increased, so have fun adding more friends and family to your Path. If you’d like to opt out of this test, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.