Technology I Like – Path 12/21/11

I try a lot of apps and web services searching for the best ways to optimize my time, productivity, and enjoyment. I sometimes think that my search for incrementally better tools ends up being a detriment to productivity because of the time I spend learning, but I also think I learn a lot about design, new tech, and features that can then potentially be applied to health. I’m going write about them from time to time to document and share the experience.

A new service I’ve recently discovered, though it’s been around for a year or so, is Path. I never used the original Path, but Path 2 is fantastic. Path is a "smart journal" for iPhone and Android. You can use it as a personal journal or for sharing with friends and family. I was inspired by the promo video on the site that had a dad traveling and keeping up with his family that was home via Path.

I’m not a Facebook fan because I consider it a waste of my time to see irrelevant updates from "Friends." I use Twitter only for professional purposes. I don’t do Foursquare because I don’t want to be the Mayor of Chipotle. What I’m lacking is a fast and easy way to keep a running, interactive dialogue with the people that I really care to keep up with personally — my close friends and family.

That’s where Path comes in. The idea is that you can only have so many trusted relationships. That is supported by the research of an Oxford professor. From Path: "We tend to have five best friends, 15 good friends, 50 close friends and family, and 150 total friends." I think 150 is too many – I think 10-15 people is the biggest network I’d want.

There are some flaws to this approach. My wife has struggled with turning down requests from people she knows that she doesn’t really consider good friends. You can add people to your Path, then remove them — they will just stop getting your updates without getting a message that you’ve disconnected them. This isn’t an optimal approach, and I prefer the more direct method of saying I use Path only with family and my closest friends.

You can connect Path to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr if you choose. I think Posterous should probably be added to the list of connected services as well. I don’t ever use any of these services through Path because, as I wrote above, Path is personal and the rest are non-personal. My wife uses Twitter and Tumblr for personal posts, so she sometimes posts through Path to these services. In this way, she uses Path like her inner circle and only posts select things more widely.

I use Path to keep up with good friends and family. It only really works if you can convince people around you to join and those people use smart phones. I’ve successfully gotten nine of my closest friends and family to join and they all seem to like it, or at least they are still using it. We’ll see if it lasts. Download and give it a try if you’re like me and have been looking for some way to keep up with people outside of Facebook.

The iPhone app itself is fantastic. It’s one of the best I’ve tested from a usability perspective. The ability to swipe left or right to open up different menus is great. The "Chooser" (red plus button in bottom left) is a phenomenal way to declutter the small screen of buttons and give you fast, flexible posting options.

As I use it, I realize how nice of concept this would be for a personal health journal. Path is built and optimized not only for smart phones, but also for smart phone users who are comfortable with smaller fonts and buttons. I don’t see GreatCall rolling out this app to it’s senior users, but I do see this as a potentially beautiful app for the right cohort of patients.

The ideal patient populations that come to mind for me are pediatric anything, breast cancer, pregnancy, and new moms (notice almost all women.) These are groups of people looking to connect intimately with others sharing the experience. Just retool the app slightly so the "Chooser" offers the ability to add a side effect, mood, treatment, pain, glucose, milestone, or whatever else might be relevant based on user and clinician feedback. Then get health systems, or maybe payers or individual providers, to refer patients to it with unique codes that link patients to that referring entity. It would also be interesting to explore the ability of providers to interact with patients through something like this.

Another feature of Path is that you can make any post private so it’s only for you. This also would work well for a personal health journal.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA who works with health IT startups.

  • Tyler

    Good post. I feel similarly about both the inefficiency of trying new apps all the time and how good Path is (particularly the UI). I’m working on a health journal project right now and, while we have yet to tackle the mobile app, when we do get to it I’m sure we will incorporate some aspects of the UX from Path.

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