Path is rolling out a new feature of its iPhone, iPad, and Android app today that sounds much more innocuous and boring than it actually is: Search. With the new version, the main screen on the social networking app shows a search bar at the top. Tapping on it reveals a new screen with a few lozenge-shaped buttons of suggested searches like "November," "Summer," and a few of your friends and recent locations. They're meant to serve as hints that you can build searches that drill into your own postings with remarkable precision. Tapping in queries like "My photos from last Christmas" or "happy photos" triggers Path's awareness of the metadata built into every Path posting, returning results quickly.
Nearly every app has a small search field at the top of it, so the new addition to the app doesn't seem like it should be worth an announcement — much less meetings with the tech press. Yet what Path has done with its search is actually surprisingly unique in the social network space: it's a fast, easy, natural-language-based search of your own content and your friends content. Twitter focuses on the now and has only recently allowed downloads of your full archive. Facebook's search is outward — connecting you to new content, not necessarily your own check-ins and pictures. Even Google+, with that company's vast search resources, isn't taking advantage of the kind of metadata it could to surface when you search for photos from your last vacation that you didn't think to properly tag when you uploaded them. All of these networks quietly collect a wealth of information about everything you post to them — but only Path is making the information it collects on your content easily searchable.
Only Path is making the information it collects on your content easily searchable
Path says that it has spent a significant amount of time re-working its databases so that users can search by friends, places, dates, holidays, seasons, weather, birthdays, and more. The real question is how useful the search feature will be to infrequent Path users — a recent tool to import data into the app from other social networks will help to fill out the data for some, if they're willing to give that information to Path.
The social network has reached five million users, half of which use it at least once a month. That's a fairly small number of users in this day and age, but CEO Dave Morin told us that the company is focused on making money by offering "premium services" — it already offers in-app purchases for photo filters and song purchases. In theory, that should mean that Path won't need to turn to advertising and can make money with a small number of users.
Path 2.9 with the new search feature should be rolling out into the iOS App Store and Google Play now, but the enhanced search features are being rolled out "incrementally" and are currently only available in English.