Path dives into search with a thematic approach to digging

Suddenly it seems like everybody wants to get in on the search party — just this week, Facebook launched “Nearby” to help you find businesess near you, Yelp and Foursquare keep updating their products with new bells and whistles, and Twitter is letting you download your tweets for nostalgic personal searching or archiving. And Path, the self-described private social network, is jumping into the fray on Thursday with the launch of its own search product, which combines personal nostalgia with local recommendations all in one.

Path search barPath’s search function hinges around what looks like a normal search bar at the top of the screen, but when you tap it to enter a phrase, Path auto-suggests several ways to search: By person (you can hunt for all your memories that took place with a particular person), by place (you can look back and see moments from your favorite restaurant over time), by time (check out the music you’ve listened to at night, for instance), or by timeframe (everything that happened in April or last year.) You can also search for moments posted nearby, so if you’re looking for a coffee shop or sushi restaurant nearby, you can see where your friends have been in the area.

The search function on Path is definitely more personalized than what you’d find on Google, or even on Foursquare, under the assumption that the people you connect with on Path are your true, close friends (it’s limited to no more than 150 connections). So your results could be narrower but more targeted as a result. For the most part, Path’s search function feels closer to Timehop than Yelp, letting you discover moments from your past, rather than focusing on businesses that are necessarily nearby.

The biggest question in my mind when looking at the search function is whether users will immediately understand how to use some of its coolest features. Most of us are used to using the Gmail search bar to find keywords that we know appeared in the particular email we want, but Path’s search goes a little further than that.

A search for “weekend brunch” will turn up results for check-ins on weekends (the search engine knows that you mean posts on Saturday or Sunday), and at restaurants that serve brunch (by using Foursquare’s API to see which restaurants serve brunch food, even if the original post didn’t include the word “brunch.”) You can also search for “royal flush” to see moments that gathered all possible reactions from your Path friends (heart, smiley face, frown, etc.) It’s very cool, but not something users might immediately grasp. Although the suggested search terms can help with that.

And the success of the search bar is also very dependent on a user being a somewhat regular user of Path — it’s most interesting looking back at a wide variety of data from a long time period. The company is at about 5 million registered users, said Nate Johnson, the company’s VP of marketingup from 3 million in April, but if you’ve only been posting on the network for a week, it probably wouldn’t seem as cool, although it would certainly work.

But I had a lot of fun searching through my Path moments from a year ago, and it’s an interesting step forward for the company in making social media check-ins and shares less chronological and more thematic to search through.