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Reimagining the Personal Network: The Case of Path

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Sweitzer, Matthew D  ORCID logo
Xiang, Haoyan 
Mohan, Sriram 
Myers, Ellen 


jats:pThe rise of highly curated networks is a pivotal dimension of social media history, yet its diverse origins remain overlooked. Here, two inductive studies investigated the case of Path: a platform (2010–2019) designed around so-called “Dunbar’s Numbers” and core networks (i.e., close friends). Study 1 conducted manual and automated text analyses using App Store archives via the Wayback Machine to evaluate changes in the industry presentation over time. Analyses showed how Path placed consistent emphasis on its ability to reinforce close ties and provide a curation-centered version of authenticity. Study 2 analyzed how users and commenters discussed Path over the same period via topic modeling of a Twitter corpus, revealing the centrality of rise-and-fall narratives to conversation about the platform. Together, the studies displayed how Path’s growth foretold changes in the social media ecosystem and how online conversation diverged from industry logics. To conclude, we discuss how Path’s history parallels theories on personal network changes, including the importance of user-driven versus algorithm-driven curation. To that end, we showcase the potential (and challenges) of using digital traces to uncover the evolution of platforms from the perspectives of different stakeholders.</jats:p>



36 Creative Arts and Writing, 4701 Communication and Media Studies, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 3605 Screen and Digital Media

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Social Media + Society

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SAGE Publications