Q: I overheard my son telling his friend to message him on Path. What is Path and should I be concerned?
A: Good question and hats off to you for paying attention to what your kids are doing online. Path is a new(er) social network app specifically designed for smart phones. It allows users to keep a personal journal, or “Path,” of their life moments.
It’s a lot like Facebook but much more streamlined in its conversation circle and visual interface. Instead of 5,000 friends, a user is limited to a more intimate circle of 150 people. The platform includes the ability to cross-share “moments” (not posts) between Facebook, and Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr, which is a huge plus for teens who appreciate things visual, easy and fast.
The risks: As with any social network there will be privacy risks. Path doesn’t (seem) to have the 13-year-old sign up requirement which may attract tweens tired of waiting to charge into Facebook. Path also tracks a users location through the automatic neighborhood feature (as a way to journal your life and record your destinations) so just be sure your child disables that feature. As always, set your child’s account to “Private” in his Path settings so that no personal information can be searched outside of Path.
Summary: While there’s no way to know if Path will become the next Instagram or Facebook, we can say this for sure: As long as mom, dad and Auntie Fran are following Johnny Jr. around and hovering over his social networks, Johnny Jr. will continue to migrate to his own parent-free hangout zones online. According to its creators, Path was designed to connect you more closely “with the people you love, your close friends and family, in mind. Share in a trusted, intimate, environment like the dinner table at home.” We see that as a positive thing and a step toward more authentic engagement and conversation in the often isolated and sometimes counterfeit arena of digital networks. This tighter circle may also serve as a barricade to outsiders and scammers if a child is coached properly.