Earlier this summer, Path made two big announcements: The first was its release of Path Talk, a standalone messaging app that combined chat with ambient status updates to let users know what their friends were up to. The second was the acquisition of text messaging for business app TalkTo.
Now those two pieces are coming together, as the company has released a new version of its messaging app that enables users to reach out to businesses via text. Path Talk version 1.1 has added a ‘Places’ tab alongside ‘Messages’ and ‘People’ so that users can ask questions and communicate with nearby businesses directly from within the app.
In the Places tab, users see a map of businesses nearby and can choose one to initiate a conversation with. Places have identifying icons to let users know what kind of business they are, and they also have status icons so users know whether they are open or closed. They can then message those places with requests for information and get responses within the app.
To get users started and used to the idea of messaging with places in its app, Path provides a series of sample questions in the map view of what could be asked of different locations.
The idea is to make conversations with places similar to what consumers have gotten used to in sending messages to their friends. Rather than calling a business and waiting on hold to ask a question of the person who answers, those messages are sent to representatives who make the calls for Path users. Once they’ve gotten an answer to a specific question, they will follow up with the answer in Path Talk.
All questions and responses appear in the primary Message tab alongside any conversations that users have with their friends or connections in the app.
For users, the experience is meant to simplify the process of doing things like making appointments or reservations, checking the availability or price of an object without having to go to the store, or just finding out more about restaurant specials. By making the interaction asynchronous, users can go about their day without having to wait on hold for answers to simple questions.
TalkTo co-founder Stuart Levinson, who joined through the acquisition, likened the interaction to having a personal assistant in your pocket. Some folks may find that amusing, given that founder and CEO Dave Morin once mentioned a bespoke app for communicating with his personal assistant as one of his favorites. Then again, by introducing this feature, Path is eliminating some of the need for that type of bespoke app.
Places was created through the integration of TalkTo’s service into Path’s backend. It’s essentially offering the same features, just through the Path user interface. But while TalkTo had a type of premium model for heavy users, Path’s Places messaging feature will be entirely free.
There are a few different ways Path could seek to monetize the feature. For one thing, it’s collecting a good amount of purchase intent data from users asking about the price or availability of an item. So there’s the opportunity for Path to provide an opportunity for customers to purchase or even reserve an item. Or even just to provide businesses with highly qualified leads for customers who want to buy something.
First, though, Path has to get people comfortable with the idea of sending messages to businesses, and to get them more interested in using its apps in general. At Disrupt SF, Morin said Path had about 5 million daily active users. But only a subset of them will have access to the Places feature, which is rolling out just in the U.S. and Canada. Path’s international users will have to wait until the feature is supported in their markets.