Saying its goal is to "help connect our community to the world as it happens," Instagram on Tuesday unveiled two major updates to how its site works: a powered-up search function and a new Explore page that makes it easier for users to discover image and video trends in real time.
The updates could help Instagram become more of a Twitter-like source for news from developing stories and live events. Instagram has already surpassed Twitter in terms of number of monthly active users -- more than 300 million, compared to 284 million in December.
The two companies appear to be increasingly competing for a lead in the race to deliver real-time content to online users, albeit in different formats: primarily text for Twitter versus images for Instagram. Twitter, which was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in April 2012, appears poised to overtake LinkedIn next.
While more than 70 million new photos and videos are added to Instagram every day, users until now haven't had an easy way to find images from specific moments and places, the company said in a blog post today. The new features announced today are aimed at changing that.
'Completely Reimagined' Explore Page
Being rolled out first only in the U.S., Instagram's new Explore page has been "completely reimagined" to make discovery "immediate and effortless," the company said. The updated feature now "surfaces trends as they emerge in real time, connecting you to events and conversations both near you and around the globe."
In addition to trending Tags and trending Places, Explore now also offers links to curated collections of images that will be regularly updated, according to Instagram. Among some of the collections the company has highlighted are "Glimmering Islands," "Extreme Athletes," "Ancient Ruins" and "Towering Rocks."
The revamped search function will make it easier for users to search posts by places, people and tags either individually or all at once. Search results are "based on a variety of factors, including the people you follow, who you're connected to and what photos and videos you like on Instagram," according to Instagram's support page for the new features.
Merging Social and News
Traditional news organizations are taking notice of Instagram's increasing popularity, with many setting up their own accounts to share images with their readers. "One of the first media outlets to embrace Instagram, National Geographic, has more than 17 million followers on the platform," the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) noted in an article last month.
Instagram, meanwhile, has increasingly ventured into news territory. Earlier this year, the company was spotted advertising for experienced journalists "for a singular voice publication destined for a global audience." However, the CJR noted that other social media sites -- including Tumblr and Twitter -- have stumbled on "the path from social platform to self-referential publisher."
We contacted Katie Hawkins-Gaar, digital innovation faculty member at The Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization, to get her take on Instagram's new direction.
"I'm not surprised that Instagram is making a push to become more of a source for news," she said. "Established social networks like Facebook and Twitter have dedicated teams to newsgathering and news partnerships, and other players like Snapchat are starting to invest more resources into news."
Hawkins-Gaar said that increasingly people are discovering news via social media, which is something that news organizations can't ignore.
"Instead of visiting one specific Web site or subscribing to a particular newspaper or magazine, audiences now have access to a variety of news based on what their friends are sharing on social," she said. "This poses clear challenges for news organizations, but also offers a lot of opportunity in terms of reaching wide and diverse audiences and experimenting with new models of delivering the news."