Why is Path so Popular in Indonesia?

One social network that has many in the tech industry scratching their heads is Path. From the looks of it few outside of the company itself understand Path, the seemingly Facebook clone that’s native to mobile devices. There had been questions about Path’s existence. Practically nobody in the United States are on it, with roughly six million members and around half live outside of the US. With such low numbers relative to other big name American-based social networks, why is it so popular in Jakarta? Why does it appear on random people’s Android and iOS devices in public places in Indonesia?

[This was written before the release of Path 3.0 which adds personal and group messaging with stickers and an in-app store.]

We wrote a bit about Path back in June last year when it introduced a number of languages and we noted that Path users love the service because it’s mobile, simple, and it’s personal. The ability to share with a limited number of people really resonates with a lot of Path users in Indonesia, something that is not attractive to a lot of Americans because that’s exactly how they use Facebook.

Speaking to Nir Eyal who is a Management lecturer at Stanford Graduate School who also specializes in psychology and consumer behavior, he said that he doesn’t understand why anyone would use Path. The app is simply unheard of outside of Silicon Valley and even then, it’s not that popular among the tech community, relative to the likes of Twitter, Yelp, and Foursquare.

According to Eyal, Facebook already serves people’s need to share among a limited circle, although it is beginning to get abused and Facebook’s increasing disregard to privacy is affecting people’s behavior on Facebook. However, people who are already on Facebook are comfortable with the environment and are unlikely to switch away due to the connections that have made on the network.

It seems that the key to Path’s wide adoption in Indonesia is how roughly abused Facebook has become. For a lot of people in the United States, Facebook is that persistent connection people have with their friends and relatives. They leave messages there, post their thoughts and discoveries, share news and photos, play games together, communicate, and generally keep in touch with their closest friends and relatives through the network.

In Indonesia Facebook is a marketplace. Yes it’s a social network but it’s a highly abused social network in which people take advantage of their connectedness and use their personal pages to promote and sell products and services. Large numbers of Indonesians use their Facebook pages to upload photos of the things they sell and tag everyone and their dog to announce that they have a new item available for sale. On top of that, there’s the game invitations. Oh the horror when these wretched things come around.

Facebook may well be the top social network with the most number of members in Indonesia but its activity rate is questionable, arguably plateauing if not on the way down. People are moving towards other apps and networks for a number of different reasons. Recently it opened up a vacancy in its Singapore office to help prop its usage among Indonesians back up.

Facebook is losing its shine among a lot of Indonesians and Path came up at the right time to replace that intimate atmosphere and private environment in which people can more freely share their activities to their closest friends and relatives. While the hard limit of 150 friends is considered too small among Indonesians who would like to be as connected as possible to everyone, once they realize the significance of this limit, it becomes liberating.

Ario Pratomo, co-founder of Jakarta co-working space Comma said that the curated 150 is why he loves Path. He shared his wedding photos and stories about his newly married life on Path as well as updates on his daily activities and travels.

Evan Hindra, an Indonesian UX designer and consultant who lives in Canada loves Path because he says it’s where rich Indonesians hang out and it’s a great source for observation. “They’re interesting people to say the least. They behave unlike any other group I know. The rich kids expose their lives on Path. Their social platform is ever changing but easy to deduce, Ultimately it’s my ego booster whenever I feel like I’m going nowhere”.

Many others cite privacy as their biggest reason to stay active on Path. While the obvious response to that is an advice to share more responsibly on Facebook and be more aware of Facebook’s privacy options, there is no such option on Path. Either you share or you don’t and if you share, everybody who are your friends can see them. You decide who your closest friends are and you don’t even have to use up all 150 slots.

Perhaps close isn’t the right word to use. People whom you are connected directly with on Path are those whom you don’t mind sharing things with. They’re the non judgmental people, those who understand the things you go through. You may not hang out with them all the time but they are the ones you are most comfortable with.

Path is not a smooth sailing boat. Over the last year, it has gone through numerous operational issues, downtimes, error-laden days, unsolved bugs, and so on. Weekends seem to be Path’s worst days in which the network tend to be inaccessible far longer and more frequently than other days. There are times when Path simply refuses to load the update stream or refuses to post your updates. Sometimes you can only scroll back to a few days ago instead of weeks or months. The recently implemented search feature also has its downtime every now and then.

Despite all these issues, people are sticking to Path. TeknoJurnal co-founder Putra Setia Utama said Path is like that gorgeous girlfriend that you keep despite her obvious flaws. Path is indeed gorgeous. It’s meticulously designed, does exactly what you want it to do, and it gives you an amazing personal experience. It’s almost the perfect social network. If only it does private messaging.

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