Path: The smaller, simpler alternative to Facebook

With dead-simple functionality and an elegant user interface, Path for Android and iPhone aims to bring social networking back to its roots, where "friends" are actually friends, and posts are actual moments worth sharing.

At a time when Facebook seems to keep adding apps, curating news feeds, and pushing users to connect with as many other users as possible, Path, the blossoming social-sharing app for iOS and Android, is doing just the opposite. It's trying to keep things small and simple.

While the idea of social networking on a smaller scale may seem strange, it makes a lot more sense once you get to know Path. With no brand pages, groups, event invitations, or Bejeweled requests to clutter its experience, this young social network is all about sharing personal moments with loved ones. That's it. That's why it limits the number of connections you can have to 150 (a number that Path believes is the average number of true friends a person has in life).

As with any other social network, getting started on Path means creating an account and populating a profile. Your name, e-mail address, and a photo will do, but you can also add your phone number and birthday. Like Google Plus and Facebook, Path gives you a slot for a cover photo, where you can upload something a little artsier than your standard head shot.

Once you're all set up, the first thing you should notice is Path's interface, elegantly designed and head and shoulders above that of Facebook's mobile app. It's easy to zip around and share things, and the entire package just looks and feels...better. Tiny details like the emotion icons and the time stamp that appears as you scroll through updates make it a pleasure to keep tabs on friends, rather than an exhausting task, as it sometimes can be with other social-networking programs. Overall, it's a pleasantly intuitive experience.

The biggest thing that sets Path apart from other networks is the nature of the updates that get shared. While Facebook walls can be filled with posts about any number of things ("Come to my party!" "Support this cause!" "Check out my new Web site!"), Path is more about letting your friends and family know what you're up to throughout the day. Thus, its sharing options are distinctly personal. You can share photos, who you're with, where you are, the music you're listening to (with the help of a built-in Shazam-like tool), or your thoughts (essentially, through a status update). There's even an option to let your Path friends know when you're sleeping.

Granted, you can always share whatever you want, but after using Path, I can say there's a noticeable skew toward sharing personal moments, as opposed to, say, news articles or viral videos. In fact, there isn't even an easy way to share hyperlinks, which can be both a relief and a pain.

By default, your posts only go to your friends who are on Path. But if you'd like, you can easily share anything simultaneously on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Foursquare. This makes the Path app an attractive first option whenever you have something you want to share.

As impressive as Path is, though, there are still areas where it could improve. For one, it's only available via mobile app. There is no Web-based interface where you can read and post updates. Second, the photo sharing is weak. Neither the iPhone nor the Android version offers cropping, zooming, or other editing features. Also, as of now, only the iPhone version can post videos, which is baffling.

At this point, it seems to me like the biggest obstacle new Path users face is getting friends onto the network. Still relatively new in the social-app space, Path can be a tough sell to longtime Facebook devotees.

Overall, if you're looking for a simple app to keep you in the loop with only your closest friends and family, Path is the answer. It's beautiful, powerful, and at the moment seems to be growing very quickly.

Path (iPhone | Android) is available as a free download from Google Play and from the App Store.

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