Instagram has officially removed the ability to search for specific terms from posts. The company announced on Tuesday that it was changing its search function to prioritize content from accounts that it feels will spark more interest among its users. The changes will begin rolling out to all users on Wednesday.
The changes come as Instagram grapples with a backlash over its algorithmic content feed, which surfaces photos that the platform’s tens of millions of users deem most attractive. Critics have called the feed “Tinder for weed,” suggesting that it promotes objectification, especially of women.
In a blog post, Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said that the search function was one of the most frequently used features on the app. He noted that while the platform has always focused on building a library of curated content, it’s never been able to respond to specific keywords in the content itself.
“Over the years, we’ve noticed that when people use this feature, they tend to search for terms like ‘kale’, ‘avocado’, ‘bodybuilding’ and ‘triathlon’,” Systrom wrote. “While these are all incredibly useful key words for people who love to eat kale, avocado, or who bodybuild, they don’t tell you much about what the content is actually about.”
According to Systrom, these are the types of searches that Instagram will now prioritize.
- accounts that have a healthy, flourishing community
- content that is varied and engaging
- Instagram Stories that are aesthetically pleasing
In an interview with CNET, Instagram’s head of search said that the goal is to help users discover content that is most relevant to them. “We want to ensure that when a user does a search, they’re getting something that is most useful to them,” said Anirudh Rajan. “That’s probably the key goal behind this feature. We want to ensure that people are getting the kind of results that they want, and that the content is relevant and useful to them.”
Instagram Is Taking Its Own Toll On Its Bottom Line
In the company’s most recent quarterly results, Instagram said that it saw slowing user growth and more revenue coming from ads. During its last conference call with stock analysts, Instagram said that its user base had declined to 308 million from 317 million a year prior. The platform also said that its revenue, which includes both advertising and subscription fees, had increased to $12.9 billion from $11.7 billion.
The company isn’t sugarcoating the situation either. In its earnings release, it said that organic reach — or the ability to reach a substantial audience with content that isn’t heavily promoted by a brand — was nearly impossible to achieve. “The majority of our content isn’t seen by anyone other than our audience, which is comprised mainly of people using the app,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said on the call. “We’ve always had great interest in expanding our audience, but now that we’re a large company with a lot of money, it’s even more crucial that we do so.”
For years, Instagram has been a platform for people to share their experiences, showing the world their favorite movies and books, beautiful photos, and the most memorable moments of their lives. But as it turns out, the most memorable moments of their lives might not be things that are inherently interesting to anyone other than those who were there.
To be clear, the content that you see on Instagram isn’t garbage. There’s a lot of genuinely beautiful stuff on the platform. Rather, it’s just that the content that you see relies heavily on the fact that you’re a paying subscriber, or that you’ve been “suggested” by a brand. This is something that the company is actively working to change, and the fact that it’s even considering changing its algorithms is a major step in the right direction.
Why Do You Want to Change Search?”
The backlash that Instagram has faced for its algorithmic feed is actually a long time in the making. Back in 2014, when Instagram originally launched, it was met with near-universal acclaim. The fact that it gave users all of the tools they needed to create a miniature social media platform — and that it did so without resorting to gimmicks or tricks — made the app stand out. At the time, Instagram users could follow the same users that they followed on other social media platforms, and the content that they saw was curated by the people that they followed. There was no algorithm deciding what to show them.
However, as the app has grown, the amount of content that it shows has grown with it. While it started off showing users exactly 10 photos per day, it now shows them closer to 20 photos per day. Because of this, the ability to find the content that you want to see has become more difficult. If you’re looking for something specific, like a certain movie or book, it can be hard to find. Especially since, as we’ve seen, the platform’s algorithms favor content that is most popular, and this can make it hard for niche content to stand out.
While Instagram has always considered its content to be curated and personalized, the content that you see is governed by a combination of factors. The most prominent of these is probably the algorithm, which prioritizes content that is currently popular. However, the other factors include:
- your Instagram friends’ suggestions
- content that was popular before you joined
- content that has been boosted by a brand
- the location of where you are
- the weather conditions
- your phone’s storage
- the amount of time that you’ve spent on the app
As Rajan said on the call, “Search isn’t going anywhere, but it will always be a small slice of the experience on Instagram. We want people to find the content that they want to see on the platform.”
How Is This Algorithm Changing?
Well, first of all, the search bar is changing. Instead of being at the top left of the screen, as it has since the beginning, the search bar is now going to be at the bottom of the screen. This change makes it easier for users to get to. As well, there will now be a magnifying glass icon at the top right of the screen. Tapping on this icon reveals a menu that allows users to search for content by keyword, hashtag, or user.
While these changes aren’t big, they are a step in the right direction. For years, we’ve seen Google, Apple, and other tech companies try to solve the problem of information overload with the notion of a “filter bubble.” The idea is that when you’re exposed to only content that you find interesting, you’ll never get the opportunity to see content that you might deem less so. With these changes, Instagram is acknowledging that this is a problem and trying to solve it. While there are no guarantees that this will fix everything, it’s a step in the right direction.
These are just some of the changes that Instagram is making to try and better serve its users. As the company continues to grow and change with the times, so too will its product.