With over 90 million monthly users and 40 million new uploads per day, Instagram has become the most popular photo sharing app in the world - but do we really care for all of them?
Ever since Instagram decided to invite the Android crowd into their world-famous app, their popularity exploded. Thousands of “likes” and comments per second, with integration and sharing options to Facebook, Twitter, and other popular API’s were just the start. With it’s accessibility and versatility, Instagram brought a simple way to change ordinary pictures to visually stunning entertainment to mobile users worldwide.
Then you have the “Explore” section of the app. Introduced in mid-2012, this new tab lets users peer into a select pint-size droplet amongst millions of uploads, chosen for you as a formulated result. And what do you get? Preteen self-shots, high fashion, and quote-overlaid stock images.
But wait a minute - I don’t care about any of these things. So how, Gods of Instagram, did you choose this for me? Maybe these photos are based on pure statistics, the number of likes they have, or the hundreds of thousands of people following the uploader. Maybe it’s based on my region, or the dozens of hashtags that are tacked onto every shot. It turns out it’s none of these factors - it’s all of them:
“We use a special formula to determine which photos make it to the Explore tab. We do our best to make sure everyone has a fair chance of seeing their photos on the Explore tab. The goal of the formula is to surface the most recently interesting photos based on a variety of variables. It takes into account much more than that to make sure new people with fewer followers also have the chance of being discovered.”
However, if you were to take a quick stroll through the Explore page, it’s difficult to see how this is true. With every shot whose uploader ranges from 50 thousand to 500 thousand followers, behind mountains of comments and likes, how it’s even remotely possible for “people with fewer followers” to scratch the surface is beyond me.
Instead of feeding a bunch of content that could mean nothing to your users, why not tailor the Explore section towards the users themselves? There’s already a source of metadata you could actively pull from. For example, I (sparingly) use hashtags to signify how my shots could be found by the rest of the world. Why not inject similar tagged images into my very own Explore section? Instagram already has the ability (via terms and conditions) to connect with Facebook account information, so why not pull from that too? Yes, the app also has a function to search by username or even the hashtags themselves, but why create a section of your app that gives users with less the false sense of one day being discovered, by random?
But maybe that’s the point. Keep the uploads coming. Keep the buzz thriving. Keep the likes, comments, following, and desperate calls for attention alive. Instead of being an outlet to easily discover what relates to an individual user, the Explore page is more of a dark joke. In their experiment, Instagram exposes the true values of the worshipper and those most worshipped within a 612px by 612px square - in all of its extravagance, egocentrism, and narcissism.
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