So far, Snapchat has always seemed like a competitor to the big social networks: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But a new update makes them look a whole lot like . . . Google?
In a new feature called Context Cards that launches today, you can swipe up on many snaps (the videos and photos you or your friends shoot) to get details about the business they may be at. That includes reviews, maps, contact info, reservations, and even an option to call a ride to the restaurant or store. All these capabilities are provided by partners including Foursquare, Michelin, Opentable, Lyft, and Uber. (The financial arrangements of these partnerships have not been disclosed.) You can also use Context Cards to check out more public snaps from the same area.
These cards look a whole lot like the cards used by Google Search and Maps–complete with the deep links to order ride-sharing services. Yet they’re a unique style of search in their own right. While Google starts most queries with written text, Snap is using hyper-local, context-sensitive multimedia–a photo or video–as the starting point for your question. Where is this person at? How do I get there? What else is there?
It’s worth noting that messaging apps like WeChat are already critical to getting information about, communicating with, and paying at businesses in China. Meanwhile, Pinterest Lens currently allows photo-based search for furniture and clothing, while Google’s upcoming Lens functionality will let you aim a smartphone camera at businesses to get their hours of operation and reviews. In Snap’s world, however, the gesture is not so literal as pointing your phone at something to learn more about it, as you would with an augmented reality app. The service is instead assuming that, when watching someone else have a good time somewhere, you may want to learn more about the spot, or even join them there, just by swiping up.
So like many of Snapchat’s features, there’s no perfect analog out there for what the company is doing with Context Cards. But it’s definitely the most Google-inspired, utility-based product it has introduced to its messaging platform to date. If it’s a sign of anything, it’s that Snapchat may be growing up a bit–along with its users.