Path.com was a photo sharing and messaging service that allowed users to build personal social networks. With path.com, you could build a network of up to 150 contacts. You’d have been right to call Path a competitor to social media giant, Facebook. The latter, at some point, even adopted features from Path to its platform.
The social sharing product, which Google tried to buy for $100 million, once raised investments at a $500 million naira valuation. This was in 2011. Path had just launched the year before, specifically on November 1st 2010. It was acquired five years later (2015) by KaKao in an undisclosed deal.
In this post, we explore what happened to this product that was supposed to take on Facebook by providing a more “intimate” social network.
The History of Path.com
David Morin, who was a longtime Facebook employee, left the company to launch Path. He did this alongside Dustin Mierau and Shawn Fawning — a programmer and angel investor. Fawning had just exited and sold his most recent startup, Rupture, to Electronic Arts for $30 million in 2008 (Source).
David referred to Path as the “journal of our lives.” According to him, he imagined that Path (would have) provided a more personal feeling to social media than Facebook and Twitter. Hence, the focus on close friends and contacts and the adoption of a mobile-only strategy. The whole idea for the creation was centered around important moments and people. (Source).
Before announcing his departure from Facebook, he worked with developers building businesses on Facebook’s platform. His work sure tapped into an obvious desire to build his own company. David noted that he and his co-founder hoped to create a new kind of platform that prioritized identity and social context. And did they do that?
There are indications that Path, like many social media platforms, made the bulk of its revenue through advertisements. Their terms of service gave them the liberty to serve ads from third-party to users.
Path, throughout its existence, raised a total of $66.2 Million in funding over a period of 4 years and 5 funding rounds. The latest funding round was a Series C that happened on January 10th, 2014, and raised up to $25 Million (Source).
Concisely, Path is a social networking site. You can upload status updates, photos, videos, location, music listening to, and so on. The home page, like Facebook, contained these updates from your friends or contacts. Path lets users add friends on the platform, from their contact list, from Facebook, and also invite an entirely new person via SMS (Source).
The mobile-only platform was available on both iOS and Google Play Stores. By default, whatever you share on the app is private. This gives you significant control over who sees your posts, or updates, or location, or “paths”.
Path also had a premium package for users — $4.99 for 3 months. Premium users get free sticker packs (new ones added monthly), free camera filters, exclusive access, and an ad-free platform. Users could also submit sticker proposals and it gets reviewed (and sometimes approved) by the Path team (Source)
In 2014, Path Talk was launched after the company acquired TalkTo, a business messaging service. Path Talk was a standalone messaging service that attempted to ride on the popular usage of the product’s messaging feature. It also had status updates that show friends a couple of things like location & low battery (Source). For context, Path Talk is to Path what Messenger is to Facebook.
The company had its fair share of user privacy-related controversy. In 2012, a Singapore-based developer, Arun Thampi, published a blog on how Path uploaded users’ addresses to its servers. This earned the company a lot of backlash and reversed the goodwill they had initially gathered from the tech industry (Source).
In response, Path’s CEO David Morin commented on the developer’s blog, and afterward, published on the company blog to apologize to their users. He stated that all users’ address book data would be totally deleted from their servers. He also noted that the use of the address book was limited to improving the quality of the “Add Friends” feature and notify users when any of their contacts joined Path.
To fix this, an update to the app was released. This allowed users to “opt-in” to sharing their address book data with the company.
In another incident, in 2013, Path settled charges with the FTC with $800,000 as the company had collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent (Source). In the same year, a user alleged that Path had sent spam SMS to his contacts. There were speculations that Facebook restricted Path’s API access because of this incident but they aren’t concrete.
Kakao Acquires Path
On May 28th, 2015, Path was acquired by Daum KaKao in an undisclosed deal. KaKao is an Asian company with a messaging app of its own – KaKao Talk. The acquisition of Path by this company was most likely driven by the former’s growing presence in Asia, Indonesia specifically (Source).
As of 2014, Path boasted of 23 million registered users, four million of whom are in Indonesia. An Indonesian investment group even participated in Path’s series C raise where the company got up to $25 million in investments.
During the acquisition, David Morin cited KaKao’s experience in mobile innovation as an indicator that they are capable of managing Path’s continuity and reliability. The company — KaKao — also talked about not having plans to push Path’s users to KaKao Talk immediately (Source).
What Then Happened to Path.com
After the acquisition, the company lived another 3 years before deciding to shut down in 2018.
The reason for the shutdown was not explicitly stated by the new owners — KaKao. However, a line from the press release announcing this read, “…and it is now inevitable to wind down the service to prioritize our work to serve you with better products and services.” (Source).
From 1st October 2018, users were not able to download or update the app from various app stores anymore. The platform closed entirely to users from 18th October 2018. The company advised users to retrieve a copy of their data (images, text, videos) from the platform before this date. (Source)
Path shut down after 18th October 2018. In total, it was around for 8 years — since 2010.