Instagram is home to more than 300 million users, sharing more than 70 million images every day. Most of us, however, see a small fraction of these images and users due to Instagram's longstanding content search and delivery function. But all that is about to change.
On 23rd June 2015, Instagram launched their iOS and Andriod updates with an all-new Search and Explore feature, designed to make finding photos and accounts of particular interest to users, easier than ever before. The update has introduced a new search function that allows search requests by location, hashtag, photographer or subject matter.
Instagram: The Network
Instagram was initially created to solve three simple problems:
1. 'Mobile photos always come out looking mediocre. Our awesome looking filters transform your photos into professional-looking snapshots'.
2. 'Sharing on multiple platforms is a pain - we help you take a picture once, then share it (instantly) on multiple devices'.
3. 'Most uploading experiences are clumsy and take forever - we've optimised the experience to be fast and efficient'.
The network's original mission stated that Instagram was 'built to allow users to experience moments in their friends' lives through pictures, as they happen'. A new mission was revealed in 2013, which was to 'capture and share the world's moments', highlighting the network's considered shift from local (i.e. connecting and sharing with friends) to global.
Embracing the Mission
It seems this recent update allows users to embrace this mission. Unlike Twitter, Instagram isn't about forcing users to adapt to a new way of using the service. Instead, members can make use of this new function, only if they choose to navigate to the Search and Explore tab (the magnifying glass).
If users do navigate to the Search and Explore tab, it will look very different following the update. The function can now be used to search for accounts, hashtags and places and is woven together into one set of comprehensive results. Search for 'University of Bath', for instance, and you'll be presented with photos from the University's official account, photos tagged #universityofbath, and photos that happen to have been taken on its grounds.
Photos using trending hashtags can be searched for and browsed, along with photos with location tags. Results for images tagged by location will be skewed according to your location to give you an idea of what's going on near you. Unlike many other networks, Instagram isn't rushing into monetising these new features. No sponsored posts = happy instagrammers and it seems the network is aware of, and respects this.
The Decision Making Process
Speaking about the network's decision to release this feature, Engineering Manager, Rodrigo Schmidt states, "it was a long process. If you want to go back to the very beginning, it was about two years ago". Instagram had a tab labelled 'popular' that displayed photos based on the power of likes. According to Schmidt, the popular tab wasn't that popular, due to the incredible ease in which users could manipulate the system to their advantage.
The overriding goal was to aid users in finding photos they wouldn't usually see, but that they would find interesting. The search and explore function has so many features that it seems to be an app within an app. Results offer a 'top posts' section, followed by a 'recent posts' section - offering users the historical reverse-chronological feed, with the bonus of a second chronological one.
The Update in Action
Schmidt visited New York recently and shared his experience using the new search function. "I landed on Sunday. On trending places, it favours what's trending nearby first, and I saw a number of parks around me that were trending. For Madison Square Park, there were a lot of pictures of barbecues and a concert. I spent a couple of hours there, and I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. It's not something I would find on TV, it's not something I would find in the news. But it was very Instagrammy."
Instagram's update has unlocked a new world for users, with the ability to research travel destinations by location, discuss current events and news items by tag and find cool things to do nearby. Not only has Instagram improved the original function of the app, but it has also added value and a new purpose to using the app itself.