Under a total assault from Facebook, Snapchat today began rolling out a new version of search designed to make starting chats easier. The update, which is rolling out first to a small group of users on Android, makes the search bar persistent across every screen of the app. And it offers an easy way to access your own profile — you can just tap the Bitmoji version of yourself to go there.
The primary use of the new search bar looks to be starting chats with friends — or groups of friends — from anywhere in the app. Start a search and you’ll see a new “quick chat” menu with icons representing the friends you chat with the most. You’ll also see a row of “cards” for the friends you chat with most frequently.
When you’ve found the friend you’re looking for, you can tap on the card to start chatting with them. If they’ve posted a public story that day, it will show up in the card, and you can tap the thumbnail to see it. You can also press and hold the card to see your friend’s profile.
The new search feature also works for publishers and the public Our Story, which anyone can contribute to. Our Story is also getting an overhaul to let users post to it whenever they want, wherever they are. In the past, users have had to contribute posts to geographical areas (“Los Angeles”) or specific topics (“Farewell Obama”). Now users can simply add a snap to Our Story and Snap’s content team will surface it as appropriate. (Users can still suggest an Our Story snap for a particular topic if they like.)
TechCrunch says the new search feature “could be a huge boon to brands, businesses, and influencers hoping to to build their Snapchat audience,” which strikes me as overly enthusiastic. A persistent search bar makes search more visible throughout the app makes it easier to find things when you know what you’re looking for. But unlike Instagram, which now has as many users of its own stories feature as Snapchat does, Snap does not highlight new or interesting accounts anywhere in the app.
That’s fine if Snapchat wants to maintain its focus on being the messaging app of choice for young people. But if wants to cultivate big brands and publishers, it’s going to have to help users find them. A new search bar, whatever its other benefits, isn’t going to get them there.
The update will come to all Android and iOS users “soon,” the company said.