clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Instagram Overhauls Search Feature to Surface More Trending News

CEO Kevin Systrom thinks Instagram can be a place to follow the news.


Instagram unveiled a massive overhaul to its search feature on Tuesday in an effort to bring users into the app more often, particularly during breaking news events.

The new feature lets users search for images by location and includes a section for trending places and hashtags, none of which was available before. The trending places feature will surface both local and national trends so topics will differ based on your location.

Instagram is also getting into the curation game that has become popular with other social networks like Snapchat and Twitter over the past few months. Instagram will feature two themed, rotating categories at a time with titles like “Extreme Athletes” or “Towering Rocks.” The images in these feeds will be selected based on a mix of computer algorithm and human curation by the company’s community team, CEO Kevin Systrom told Re/code.


The changes are a big deal for the company — big enough that Systrom handled press demos himself ahead of the product launch (a rarity at Instagram). He says the search feature is particularly important to him, in part because it’s been in the works for five years since way back when Instagram first launched in late 2010.

Systrom recalls sitting outside AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, with co-founder Mike Krieger during a Giants playoff game against the Phillies that October and wondering what was going on inside.

“We realized in that moment … that if you had hundreds of millions of people [on Instagram], you could literally see what was going on anywhere else in the world,” he said. “And that would be more useful than television, more useful than television reporting, it would be more useful than any way we currently have to see what’s happening in the world.”

Instagram is often lauded for its simplicity. But in the case of Instagram’s old search feature, simplicity may have actually been holding the app back. The old version of the app allowed for hashtag and people searches, but required different tabs for each. The new search feature will return hashtags, people and locations all from the same search bar in addition to the new trending sections.

A useful search tab should benefit Instagram in multiple ways. For starters, it’ll help people find more content they want to see and make the app more useful in the process.

More importantly may be the trending places and hashtags feature. Systrom says that Instagram can be a place for news, where people go to learn about and follow along with the day’s important trending topics. It’ll also be useful for news organizations that already scour Instagram for images to include with their stories, he added, like the image from the Baltimore police protests below that made the cover of Time.

“It’s not that we expect every person to cover floods as a citizen journalist,” Systrom explained. “All we’re doing is showing what’s naturally happening in the community today. We’re not inventing new behavior. By uncovering this [trending information], I do believe people will start to think of Instagram as that place to go [for news].”

Of course, Instagram isn’t the only service trying to capitalize on this idea of breaking and trending news. This is Twitter’s bread and butter, and Facebook has spent years trying to catch up.

The feature does give people another reason to open the Instagram app every day. Systrom says the company won’t be selling ads against these trends right now. A sponsored post or hashtag can’t trend on the service anyway, but you also won’t see ads alongside images in the trending or curated feeds, he added.

That certainly seems like a revenue opportunity for Instagram in the future; Snapchat is already taking advantage of curated, themed content.

The new feature is available as part of an app update on iOS and Android. The trending and curated content is only available in the United States, but place searches are now available worldwide.

 This Instagram image from photographer Devin Allen was taken during the police protests in Baltimore earlier this year. It appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in April.
This Instagram image from photographer Devin Allen was taken during the police protests in Baltimore earlier this year. It appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in April.
Devin Allen/ Instagram

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.