Photo: Spencer Chen (@spencerchen)
Path is unveiling a new version of its app with a search engine for all the memories its users store on the social app.That’s more than a new feature: In our opinion, that’s a business move which may renew longstanding interest among companies that might acquire the private social network, like Google and Facebook.
The problem with social apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Path that encourage you to log encounters with friends, outstanding meals, memorable parties—and photos, photos, photos—is that the digital flotsam and jetsam of your life piles up, unsorted, uncategorized, and unsearchable.
“I always thought of Path as the way to bookmark your life,” Path CEO Dave Morin told Business Insider Wednesday while previewing the new feature for us. Now it’s got a way to sort those bookmarks.
Path’s search is fast and fun, in our tests. Searches on “Ramona” readily turn up photos and videos of Business Insider West’s chief security officer. Natural-language searches like “Spencer frown” pop up the expressions of dismay generated by a certain Silicon Valley business-development professional. And “Path party” turns up photos that look a lot like, well, this.
The interface suggests dates, holidays, names of friends, and other cues to give you ideas of what to search for.
Path has also recognised that it’s not the sole repository of memories—for one thing, there’s no way to log past moments, the way you can in Facebook. But a new import feature allows you to pull in updates and photos from Instagram, Facebook, and Foursquare, to fill out your life history.
The main missing piece is Twitter, but Morin says that’s a design decision, since posts on Twitter tend to be very different from the information people share on Path and Facebook—more elements of conversations than standalone moments.
Despite a steady rollout of new features, Path remains a very small player. Facebook has a billion users, about half of whom log in once a day; Twitter just announced it has crossed 200 million users. Path has 5 million cumulative, registered users; half of those are active at least once a month, Morin says, and 1.2 million are active daily.
So Path remains a company more interesting for its technology and its design brilliance than its audience—which means it might be a natural acquisition. Google was reportedly interested in acquiring the company even before it launched. And Facebook remains keenly interested in Morin, who helped launch Facebook’s now-crucial platform for develpers when he worked there.
Google’s Google+ social network just isn’t much fun. Facebook, which wants users to fill out their histories and log significant moments on their timelines, has grown to lack a certain intimacy. Neither has the kind of intuitive search Path just unveiled.
Then there’s Apple, which clearly needs to get better at mobile software—another place where Morin used to work. Path recently hired away Emilie Kim, an engineer who worked on Apple’s in-house Camera app.
Any of those might want to buy Path for its talent—and now, for the data-crunching expertise it has shown in its new search feature.
For what it’s worth, Morin has repeatedly said he wants to keep Path independent.
And to that end, rolling out search may help, too. Morin has hinted in the past that somehow making money from data about users’ behaviour might be a way it makes money, rather than straightforward advertising. Enabling search on Path requires considerable data-crunching in and of itself; it also generates more data about what users are interested in. In both ways, Path has opened up more routes to eventually generating revenue.
Here are some screenshots of how search works on Path: