Technologizer

Path’s New Search Feature Is a Big Deal

The mobile social network now lets you revisit your path with pinpoint precision.

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com
Harry McCracken / TIME.com

Path — the Facebook-like social network which only wants you to connect with family and close friends, and which was designed for mobile devices from the ground up — is releasing a new version for iOS and Android today. It’s not exactly bursting with new features. Actually, it only has one addition: The ability to search your feed, pulling up photos, checkins and other stuff which you and your pals have posted in the past.

But boy, simply noting that Path now has search understates the significance of this upgrade. It’s a pretty remarkable search feature — one which might transform how you use the app and leave you wishing for similar capabilities in a bevy of other apps.

The new search field appears at the top of your Path home screen, and looks perfectly ordinary. But it’s not for standard Google-style querying of the text associated with past items.

Instead, Path calls on everything it knows about the items, including:

  • The location where you created them
  • The time of day
  • The people tagged in them
  • How your friends reacted to them, via smileys which express emotions such as surprise and amusement
  • The type of business establishments associated with them (if you checked into an Italian restaurant, for instance)

All this knowledge lets Path handle some rather specific searches:

  • My funny photos in San Francisco
  • Boston in March
  • Hawaii in October
  • Dinner last Thursday
  • Marie birthday
  • Photos at sunset
  • Christmas last year
  • Videos of Madonna
  • Sushi (and you can click an icon to restrict this, or any search, to items which you or other people entered near your present location)

The clever interface gives you some search suggestions (such as “Listening to music on the weekend” and “Happy thoughts”) which you can initiate with one tap, and updates them as you start to type.

Path already called itself a “smart journal,” but until now, everything you journaled tended to disappear into the forgotten past pretty quickly, since there was no efficient way to recall it. But all of a sudden, it’s easy to find a particular photo from a vacation you took awhile back. Or revisit all the moments you’ve shared with a particular friend. Or choose a brunch spot by seeing where your friends have gone lately.

One quibble: I wish that items were more clearly timestamped, so you could see when they transpired at a glance. (Date information only shows up as a pop-up label as you swipe through the search results.)

I’ve been playing with a pre-release version of the new feature over the past day, and it all works well, and reasonably quickly. It makes me want to spend more time in Path. (I’ve gone through periods of heavy usage, and ones when it suffered as I concentrated on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.)

You can use an import feature to suck items from Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram into Path; they too become searchable. But this search is so well-done that I hope other apps with a sense of time, location, people and other specific elements of your activities draw shameless inspiration from it. Facebook’s Timeline would sure be a lot easier to explore if it had something similar.

Even before the new search feature launched, Path was a beautifully-designed and functional app; its creators have done a better job of enabling Facebook-like features on a phone than Facebook has. (They’ve also limited your social network to 150 people in the interest of keeping it truly personal.) Now it’s an even more inventive and inviting Facebook alternative.

If you download the app and don’t see the search feature right away, hold tight: Path says it’s going to roll it out incrementally, presumably to ensure that its servers don’t get crushed by too many Path fans revisiting their past moments all at once.