Can you really make a ‘personal’ social network?

privateWe are inundated with ways to share. Photos, food, news, videos, games, you name it – there are innumerable platforms for sharing content with the World Wide Web. Privacy has become an increasingly important aspect of these social networks, and applications have responded to varying degrees. Google+ Circles were arguably one of the most distinct steps toward more customized sharing, and a Facebook Lists refocus followed suit.

Not good enough, say some. The private social network may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a very real emerging trend. Path could be seen as the grandfather for this momentum. The app originally introduced itself with the idea of whittling down your friend list to a select 50 people. But some other networks that have hit the market are trying to go even smaller. FamilyLeaf is a new application to connect your relatives, Nextdoor is only for you and your neighbors. Smaller yet: applications like Pair and TheIcebreak are for couples only (the latter, to be fair, is also a curated activity guide — but there is a strong social element). That’s as small as your social network can get.

So what’s the impetus for these increasingly exclusive platforms? You can chalk part of it up to privacy fears. Social networks have gotten big, cumbersome, and laden with concerns over where your data is going and what is being done with it. Consider that fact that these sites are go-tos for employers, users have to keep strict tabs over what’s made public, what’s showing up, and who they are friends with. It’s a lot of work, admittedly.

At the same time, the question of whether a private social network needs to exist is begging to be asked. Isn’t that what phone calls or text messages or Skype chats or emails are for? The problem of private, digital communication was solved a long time ago. Social networks became a thing because we hadn’t yet found a way for mass, community-driven digital experiences. Then the Myspaces and the Friendsters came along and started that evolution, setting the stage for what we know and use today.

pairYou could argue that the purpose of the truly private social network is to offer up all the features that public platforms do for you and your significant other. The ability to communicate via a News Feed-like function, to post and share photos and links and videos. It’s more visually rich and interesting than an email or text thread – maybe only slightly though. In fact ,most of the screenshots from Pair just look like an iMessage thread.

While all of these options come with their benefits (for instance with Pair you can log details like anniversary reminders and “touch” each other with virtual fingerprints; with TheIcebreak you get points that can be redeemed for date nights), the overwhelming emotion these platforms seem to be preying on is narcissism.

The easy culprit is to place the blame on the privacy fears that come with using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but those alone aren’t entirely responsible. Part of the draw is the unquenchable thirst to digitally document ourselves that social media has created. Jon Mitchell over at ReadWriteWeb recently wrote about quitting Path:

“I had my doubts about Path 2.0 when it launched. It was like a gorgeous mirror for gazing at oneself. It seemed vain and unnecessary.”

And while he became a Path convert, he eventually decided to cut his ties with the platform:

“After gazing intently at my own life for a few minutes, I snapped out of it. Just like I thought at the beginning, I mused. Path is just a pretty mirror to gaze into narcissistically. It’s a journal you let other people read. Path calls version two a ‘smart journal.’ What is smart about it, exactly? The smarts are all on Path’s side. I don’t own the data. Path is the one using ‘smart’ on it to calculate some kind of business model.Yeah, I thought. I should get out of here. And then I realized I couldn’t. Months of my life are beautifully recorded inside this app, lured out of me by my selfish lust for an audience, and I can’t get them out. Path has stolen my journal, and it won’t give it back.”

That more than anything should make you think twice before digitally collecting your most personal and private thoughts. Because they aren’t private – not if you’re using a social platform’s technology to host them. The minute you sign up for something like this and start trading inside jokes and private photos, someone and something else has that data. And these seemingly more secure networks aren’t infallible; they could suffer the same glitches that their more public competitors have. Remember when Facebook accidentally made private photo albums public? Or how Path was hoarding user data that had seemingly been deleted? Also keep in mind that anything hosting your data has an agenda; to some degree, your information may be up for grabs.

It’s all well and good to use these new exclusive applications, just don’t let yourself get too comfortable. No matter how private and personal they feel, they aren’t rewriting the rules of social networking.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


The Teslasuit could turn Black Mirror’s terrifying ‘Playtest’ into a reality

We spoke with Teslasuit co-founder Dimitri Mikhalchuk about VR gaming at CES 2019. With all its features, the future of the Teslasuit and virtual reality look bright. And it also sounds a bit like a Black Mirror episode.

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…

Need a date for Valentine's Day? Cozy up with the best dating apps of 2019

Everyone knows online dating can be stressful, time-consuming, and downright awful. Check out our top picks for the best dating apps, so you can streamline the process and find the right date, whatever you're looking for.

These 30 useful apps are absolutely essential for Mac lovers

There are literally hundreds of thousands of great software programs compatible with MacOS, but which should you download? Look no further than our list of the best Mac apps you can find.

Tight on space? Here’s how to transfer photos from an iPhone to a computer

Never lose any of your cherished selfies or family vacation photos from your iPhone again by learning how to transfer photos from your iPhone to a computer, whether you want to use a cable or wireless transfer.
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.

AT&T jumps the gun with deliberately misleading 5GE launch

As excitement about 5G networks continues to build, AT&T jumps the gun with a ridiculous and deliberate attempt to deceive the public with 5G Evolution – a speed bump that’s based on improvements to 4G tech.

Netflix’s rate hike is a good thing. Wait, wait, hear us out

Upset at Netflix for raising its rates? We don't blame you. Nobody likes to pay more for anything -- even if they love that thing. But you really should be thanking the streaming entertainment giant. The hike in prices is a necessary and…

Bezel-less phones are terrible for typing on, and it’s only going to get worse

Bezel-less smartphone screens look great, and foldable smartphones are an exciting part of the mobile future; but we don't like where the typing experience is heading because of these two trends.

Blizzard's dismal updates to 'Diablo 3' make 'Path of Exile' the better option

'Diablo 3' season 16, the 'Season of Grandeur,' is live. It attempts to shake up the stale meta-game with a minor tweak, but it falls far short of what fans of the franchise want. Better games like 'Path of Exile' are eating Blizzard's…

A wearable may save your life, thanks to A.I. and big data. Here’s how

Wearables are morphing from devices that send you smartphone notifications and track your fitness into gadgets that can monitor your health -- and maybe even save your life.

'Wargroove' is a delightful tactics game that lets you recruit cute armored pups

Wargroove is a fantastical Advance Wars successor with beautiful pixelated visuals and rewarding grid-based combat. In addition to a meaty campaign, Wargroove has an intuitive map editor that lets you create robust campaigns of your own.
Smart Home

Will everything from lamps to fridges be spying on me? Yes, and I’m creeped out

With the debut of Panasonic’s HomeHawk lamp with built-in video camera, should we be concerned that everything -- from couches to dishwashers -- could soon be spying on us? Here’s why the answer to that question is yes.