Intimate Apps

A little while ago I started rewatching some Merlin Mann keynotes and interviews from last year. Something clicked when I watched this one in particular which I’ve re-posted to the blog recently for another post. In the middle of the talk, Merlin starts going into how people understand the meaning of privacy differently, and one the ways people understand it is as intimacy. He then talks about how the business models of many services encourage you, through what they say and through their design, to share your activity publicly and about how they are designed.

And those times where the application or service betrays you as the user by publishing what you thought was private, out in the open, “it really sucks,“ as Merlin would put it.

As an example Merlin described how he and his wife used Brightkite to share photos of their daughter and their location with each other. But one day his wife’s posts started getting published publicly. They then abandoned the service to prevent more accidents from happening. Sharing their location with just one other person in private they concluded, was not what the service was for.

The funny thing is though that what didn’t exist when Merlin gave this talk was Path. Path is an iPhone app designed for you to share personal photos with close friends and family.

Path takes away all of the options when we think of privacy and sharing to other services from the user. The application itself is private. It only gives users the option to share things with a small group of close individuals, and it makes it very clear which of your friends on the service have looked at your photos.

The beautiful thing I thought about when Path first appeared is that It wouldn’t have worked as a web app. If users had to navigate to a web url and login every time they wanted to do such a specific thing, it would become tedious quickly.

But the idea works very well as a mobile app. One of the easiest things you can go with smartphones is download apps, and open them with a simple tap. It’s very cheap for users to put more apps on their phones cognitively speaking. They only ever need to login once, all of their contacts are imported from their address book, and whenever they want to use the app, the icon is always at their finger tips.

I think all of this starts to make the case of how Mobile is the best medium to deliver applications with such very specific uses. It also shows us that apps like Path with such a focused purpose, make it possible to create intimate experiences.

(Another angle I’m thinking of is how this is the sort of application and user need that Facebook by its own design can never satisfy.)

I wrote this originally a few weeks ago. Well before Path raised 9.6 Million and before it was leaked that they turned down Google for 100 million.

Webvisions 2010 Keynote – Merlin Mann: “Bold Ideas and Insane

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