Instagram announced a major update to their Search and Explore page today, and while it appeared to be an impressive overhaul, in reality, it is just more of the same.
On their blog, Instagram is touting the update as a way to ‘See The World As It Happens’. At an overview, this update includes trending tags and places while also expanding the search feature to make it easier to find people, places, and tags.
When opening the new Explore page, the first thing you will notice is the slick new slideshow header. Instagram says this is curated collections which will be updated regularly. This feature has a lot of promises but falls flat. For instance, I went into “Towering Rocks” and saw that Delicate Arch in Arches National Park was listed near the top. I know this place very well, so I wanted to be inspired to return by finding some awesome new photos. But entering into the details was a disappointment. Instagram only returns three photos in their “Top Posts” field. And those 3 photos combined for a total of fewer than 400 likes.
Don’t get me wrong, the photos are fine. Very Instagram like. But when I open the Top Posts of a curated list for one of the most beautiful locations in the United States, I expect to see photos like Michael Shainblum’s or Toby Harriman’s.
But they aren’t there, even though they have thousands of more likes and are much more popular. And one of the reasons why appears to be because the photographers didn’t tag the locations when they uploaded, and this leads to the biggest issue I have with Instagram and more specifically, this new Explore page. I am sure I can find examples of popular and beautiful photos recently updated with the Delicate Arch geotag, but I don’t have time for that. No one does. And that defeats the purpose of using this to find inspiring and beautiful content.
Instagram is still trying to be a mobile-only application, as they won’t let you tag a location for a photo unless you are actually there at the moment you post. There are ways around that of course (just send geotagged DSLR photos to your phone), but if Instagram is changing their Explore feature to bring us the best of the best, they aren’t going to get it from mobile only photos of teenagers. Take, for example, that the first photo in the Arches Top post is an average photo in harsh light and only has 26 likes. I have seen 10,000 versions of the same exact photo before. How exactly did Instagram determine this was worthy of a “Top Post”?
There are really good photos are on Instagram. Amazing photos from amazing photographers, but Instagram’s stubbornness to accept itself as a mobile portfolio and powerful marketing tool for working photographers is causing them to force feed us average content, all while implying it is the best of the best on the platform. Instagram’s suggestions “Based on people you follow” is the most accurate, giving me interesting content more often than not. So why can’t they incorporate this algorithm everywhere? When I search Delicate Arch, I should be given “Top Posts” consisting of a mixture of “Based on people you follow”, location relevance, and highest engagement %.
“Trending Places” seems like an interesting feature to help keep watch of events unfolding in certain locations, although my initial test didn’t really deliver anything interesting either. The Golden Gate Bridge came up first, which doesn’t interest me since I live close by. Down the list, I didn’t find myself interested in much else either. I did learn there is some big concert happening at the TD Garden in Boston tonight though.
Below the slideshow header, the section “Trending Tags” appear. This is very valuable information for users who are trying to be seen, as you can simply upload a relevant photo like a warm sunset to a hot topic like #StartOfSummer.
Knowing the Instagram user base, however, this can also signal the death of a useful and exciting hashtag or locations as totally irrelevant (and often idiotic) content will soon overtake the hashtag. This is uploaded by users desperate for followers, and willing to do anything to be seen. Take the top post for Iceland for instance…hint, it isn’t the Gullfoss waterfall!
The most interesting page I found on the new Explore feature was the “Extreme Athletes” section, but not for the reason I had envisioned. I assumed I was going to see the accounts and photos of some of the world’s craziest athletes, but instead I saw the accounts of awesome photographers like Chris Burkard, Zak Noyle, and Jimmy Chin. These photographers do photograph cool athletes, but my mind envisioned something very different when I read “Extreme Athletes”
The only positive that has come out of this update, in my opinion, is that it is a wake-up call to photographers to geotag their Instagram photos if they want to be discovered. I started Geotagging all of my personal Instagram photos months ago. When I started the new Resource Travel Instagram account to share the world’s most beautiful and inspiring travel photos, I made the decision to not feature any work that I couldn’t geotag to a near exact location.
I am happy to see Instagram is starting to incorporate locations more and more into the Explore page, but they still have a long way to go to make it interesting.