A More Personal Touch: 4 Facebook Alternatives

Events, messages, friend invites, an endless stream of status updates, wedding announcements, and baby pictures, all from people you might not even know that well. Facebook can be exhausting…

Earlier this month Facebook announced they had reached over a billion active users. It's likely that nearly everyone you know is using the social network to keep in touch. Family, friends, but also acquaintances and co-workers; according to a recent article from the New York Times an average Facebook user in the United States has around 245 "friends". But how many of these people are really our close friends and the people we really want to share things with?

Social networking has its advantages: messaging, chat, sharing your thoughts, milestones and photos with the people you care about. The issue with Facebook is its lack of a personal touch. Tired of Facebook, but still want to stay connected with the friends and family that mean the most to you? Check out these more personal alternatives to the big social network.

PathScreen Shot 2012-10-17 at 2.31.06 AM.jpgOne of the biggest criticisms of Facebook has been its complicated privacy settings. By default your status updates, your images and your likes end up public, for anyone to see. Path offers an alternative with its private by default method of content sharing.

While Facebook began as a way to bring the dynamics of the college social experience to the web, Path's mandate is focused on personal journaling, letting you share your journal entries with a more intimate network (with a max of 150 connections). From their website:

The designers and engineers at Path have dreamed up and realized the Smart Journal — a journal that's with you everywhere you go, posts entries without your effort, combines photo, video, music, people, places, and text, and most importantly, includes your loved ones. Path upholds the expectations for privacy of both the mobile phone and the journal with its limited, intimate, more personal network.

PairScreen Shot 2012-10-17 at 2.31.16 AM.jpgWhile most social networks focus on helping users build a big list of followers and friends, Pair offers a way for couples to share things with just each other. With the ability to send messages, images and even sketches, Pair lets you build a feed between you and the person you care the most about in a private and subtle way.

While of course email and texts often serve just fine in keeping us connected with our partners, Path clearly fills a clever niche; combining the dynamic sharing capabilities of a social app with the more intimate interaction of a one on one conversation.

Pair might be the perfect app for long distance couples, or for relationships where both partners work long hours but like to keep in touch during the day.

Ourspot
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Ourspot (still in beta) is another social network like Path with a focus on sharing with a smaller, more private circle, but which takes an additional cue from the popular social sharing site Pinterest. On Ourspot, you and a friend can set up a shared "Spot" where you can post images of common interests you share.

Ourspot could be a great way to sharing wedding ideas with your bridesmaids or partner, or just to share inspiration with your creative collaborators.

Rootsy
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Finally we have Rootsy, a social network which offers a suite of unique features catered to keeping in touch with family. Rootsy lets you map out a family tree, and share family photos and stories, while maintaining a level of privacy appropriate to that kind of information.

I know on Facebook I often have to think twice before posting some things, knowing everyone from my old school friends to my distant cousins and aunts and uncles might be reading. With Rootsy, you have somewhere to point your relatives who might want to connect with you online, that isn't also the same social hub you share with social peers.

Facebook Take Note
As Facebook has grown bigger and bigger, I've tried to keep my list more limited to people I'm close to, to use it more to keep in touch with old friends and occasionally family or interesting acquaintances. Still, even with just over a hundred Facebook friends, I still feel like many of the people who pop up in my feed aren't really that close to me.

What Facebook really fails to represent in its offering is that we all have different kinds of social relationships. A one size fits all solution simply doesn't work as well. While the irony inherent to these smaller social networks is that you might need to convince others to join up, the focus on privacy and recognition that social relationships can be more dynamic then just having "friends" makes more specialized alternatives to Facebook pretty compelling. Here's hoping a few of them catch on (at least before Facebook gets another billion users).

(Images: screenshots as linked, lead image Sean Rioux)

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