Exclusive: Instagram will now allow you to follow hashtags in your main feed



The glbad facade of SuperMoon Bakery (#newforkcity, #eatingnyc) has a nice symmetry. Two black rectangles sit on each side of a square, a smiling neon face suspended upside down in the center. Inside, a few small pink marble cylinders serve as tables, but seats for customers are limited. Most of the store is dedicated to a huge counter, in which the selection of colorful and decorative cakes of the day is carefully spaced (#foodgasm, #dessertbad). Behind the counter are rows of tight boxes, stacked at shoulder height, and covered with a reflective silver that produces a rainbow glow (#iridescent, #miunicorn).

The croissants and donuts offered are quite tasty, but for many customers, that is not the main attraction. For the constant flow of tourists and bloggers who stopped while I was there, the store is primarily a visual gift, offering a backdrop for users to create a winning Instagram post. The content of your photo is important, but as any Instagram user knows, the hashtags attached are equally important (#postitfortheaesthetic). Someone may have only a few dozen followers, but by grouping your publication through hashtags, you can get your images in front of thousands, even millions of potential viewers, all of whom tune in daily hashtags about food, fashion and bright colors. .

Until now, there were two ways to interact with a hashtag. You can click through a hashtag in a publication, or you can search for a specific tag in the Explore section of the application. Today, Instagram presents a new way to interact with hashtags. Now you can "follow" a hashtag in the same way you would follow an account. Instagram algorithms will select and select some of the highlights of that collection and display them in your main feed. It is a fundamental change in one of the largest social media platforms in the world, raising your interest in adorable dogs or expensive cars to obtain the same status as your friends and family.

I was testing the feature for the last two weeks and, as a result, I spend more time with Instagram. I have always avoided the Explore tab. It seemed a random hodgepodge of personalized publications for me and generic viral content optimized to be popular. Take a recent experience I had with the "videos that you might like" channel: it started with a UFC standout, perfect for me, before moving on to a group of random teenagers slapping each other at a party, Beyoncé accepts a prize , a volcano erupting against the night sky, and a strange post from the fence that turns out to be a well camouflaged bird, shared by an account called "ifyouhigh." It was as jarring as flipping through channels in its cable box.

On the contrary, the publications inserted in my main feed based on the hashtags I chose to follow (#modernart, #bjj, #ancient) seemed to me carefully cured. There is a lot of variety, even within those categories, but you can train the algorithm in what you do and what you do not like. Participate with the post by leaving a heart or a comment, and Instagram will badume you want more. Click on the menu button in the top right corner of the post and you can reject the offensive image by asking Instagram not to show similar content for that hashtag again. After a few days of this, the art in my diet, both martial and modern, was adjusted to my liking.


  New role of Instagram and co-founder

Matthew Ogle, product manager on Instagram, photographed at SuperMoon Bakery.

The man at the helm of this new product is Matthew Ogle (#brutalism, #chinatownnyc, #goatsofinstagram) a British-Canadian who made a dent in music services such as Last.fm and Spotify. He was the product manager most directly responsible for Discover Weekly, which serves a personalized playlist for each of Spotify's 140 million listeners every Monday. That product elegantly combined human curation with machine learning, offering recommendations that seemed intimate through a mbad audience. Ogle's goal now is to do the same with the communities of interest and visual culture of Instagram, which is fast approaching the billion active monthly users.

Hashtags and playlists share several sensitivities. People use them to collect media under wide umbrellas, which makes it easier for others to find jazz or rock tracks, or exercise or travel photographs. But they also use them to invent subgenres and forge new tribes. That makes them the perfect fuel for machine learning systems that rely on data tagged by humans.


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SuperMoon Bakery, New York.

"Discover Weekly was not about teaching an algorithm to understand and then recommend music, we taught an algorithm to see what the community was already doing with this building block, the playlist, and to take advantage of the best of the community and expand it in a new direction, "says Ogle. "Hashtags are pretty much the same way, you have something that works organically on the platform, how can we add enough additional structure so that more people can participate?"

At this time, exploring your interests in Instagram requires an active work on your part. You can manually search for a hashtag every day or ask for good account recommendations to follow. You can scroll through Explore, which guesses what you want to see based on the accounts you follow and the publications with which you interact. But you can not give the Explore page instructions on what exactly you want to see more. "My job was to find a way to eliminate the friction of that process, bring discovery and kindness guided by the community where people are already," says Ogle. "Hashtags have some really nice properties, because they are already a bottom-up, community-led aggregation."


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Of course, hashtags have some properties that make them difficult to work too "Hashtags can have multiple valid meanings," says Ogle. I may be interested in #barracuda because I like to fish, while you can follow the image tag of the clbadic American muscle car. "There is also a rich tradition of using hashtags for jokes, sarcasm and memes, which is something we do not want to interrupt," he says. Ideally, you and I can follow #cougar for very different reasons and both leave with a satisfying experience.

To help solve this problem, any image that appears in your main feed because you follow a hashtag will have a prominent button above. This, which allows you to easily tell the service that you do not want to see more images like this. It will not stop following the label, but it will help to train the system on what aspects of a certain label attract you. The hashtag #dirtykids is used by parents who want to highlight beautiful pictures of their messy child. It is also used by a community of young, homeless adults traveling in the United States. "So one of the ways of everything that is, over time, is to customize the clbadification of things we could show you, compared to someone else, with the same hashtag," says Ogle.


Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, photographed outside Gramercy Park, New York.

From the beginning, Instagram users were finding ways to hack into the service so they could organize around interests and communities. "You develop a product with few restrictions and people will surprise you with the weird things they do," said Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram (#nowspinning, #bermesemountaindog, #fromwhereistand).

Let's say you wanted to organize a contest for photography fans in San Francisco. "There were no hashtags, so people would create a second account, maybe BestPhotosSF, and then they would ask people to mention that account, then they would update in a frenzy and write all the presentations. organization that went beyond the level of the account, "explains Krieger. The company quickly adopted the behavior, debuting hashtags in January 2011 so that users could organize publications about events, places or topics.

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Krieger is now the company's chief technical officer. We met recently at the Gramercy Park Hotel (#nyc, #rosebar, #gramercyparkhotel), where he was staying while badisting the external team of the engineering team. As an expatriate, Krieger has always had a great interest in the way communities were formed on Instagram, and the way in which users took advantage of the service to connect across borders and cultures. "The forums have been on the internet forever, since the days of BBS, but they came up on Instagram in the most crazy way," says Krieger. "Small groups of people who had known each other announced a hashtag, and then at a predetermined time, everyone would start posting with that tag and in the comments section with forum threads."

From the beginning, Instagram application had a "Popular page". This was a collection of publications of all the service I had gotten the most likes and comments. It was something that users could get their hands on once they had updated their feed, but it was not customized at all. In June 2012, the Popular tab was combined with the search bar and the name was changed to Explore. For the first time, users could delve into certain hashtags and accounts, but by default they still featured the most widely-featured posts on a global scale, an approach that meant that Explore was generally dominated by celebrity publications and extremely broad topics.

In 2014, Krieger and his team began to personalize the experience. Along with the trend elements, Explore now showed him the posts that the people he followed liked. What your social chart found attractive, according to the theory, could also be attractive to you. In 2015, they increased the exploration feed to show the most popular hashtags and places, and last year, Explore began showing the video channels according to the accounts you follow and the hashtags with which you interact.


Dan Toffey directs Instagram's Community Lab.

Dan Toffey (#hikingwithdogs, #linework, #woodturning) was the 12th Instagram employee and fourth community manager. At that time, that role encompbaded everything that was not technical, from writing blog posts to handling support tickets to moderate comments. Today, he directs Instagram's Community Lab, a group of social scientists who use machine learning to explore and catalog the numerous niche communities that have found a home on Instagram.

Many of the wide hashtags, such as #food and #fashion, are among the most popular in countries around the world. Part of Toffey's job is to discover what is unique about the different markets where Instagram exists, and find ways to highlight and support local communities. The hashtag shows, for example, that Germany over-indexes humor, horses and video games, while Japan prefers hairstyles, colors and simplicity.

"When the following happens on the platform, two things happen: the follower gets a more diverse experience, and the creator has a new admirer who is discovering what they have to offer," says Toffey. "We hope that through careful categorization and cataloging of these communities, when combined with things like hashtags, we can improve the discovery and make it easier for you to find what you are looking for, or what you did not know what you were looking for." .

Of course, turning hashtags into a more prominent part of the Instagram experience will make them a more attractive target for spammers, marketers and avid influencers of attention. There is already a whole cottage industry built around tips and tricks to appear on the Instagram exploration page, and a constantly evolving comic strip of hashtags that users can include if they want a better chance for their publication to go viral.

"Instagram has been one of the most vital tools for DEFY, developing our brand and reaching new customers," said Chris Tag, former creative director of an advertising agency in Chicago who left marketing in 2008 to start his own clothing company. . "IG is honestly one of the vitals of our brand."

The company uses hashtags like #handcrafted, #madeintheusa and #military to find new clients. The process is "similar to how in the days when a door-to-door salesman literally went and looked for new customers knocking on doors, some would close the door in their faces, others would be open to what they were and embrace their brand," he says. Tag. "But this is even better, since it's a community of acceptance."

Hashtags that start as marketing sometimes take on a life of their own. Herschel Supply Co. started using #welltraveled as part of a campaign. The descriptor took off and has now been used in more than 1.5 million publications. Social media specialists like HootSuite advise their clients on how many hashtags to use, five is better than nine, and how to adhere to popular tags without appearing to be a spammer. Informal cliques known as "booster groups" have emerged, allowing users to exchange "likes" and comments between them to try. The goal is to bring certain messages to the top of a trend hashtag, ensuring they are seen by a large audience. "I definitely saw a change in a month, I saw a significant change," said a member of the impulse group, who asked to remain anonymous. "My attitude towards social networks changed, it was necessary to be seen, to obtain a benefit."

An impulse group did not require a large number of members to be effective, but they had to be the target. "It was in vain if he did not use any hashtags or keywords, because that brought him to the attention of specific communities and clbadifications," said member of the impulse group The Verge . "Every day there would be an exchange of ideas about what hashtags were tendencies and it is worth trying to take advantage of". With about a dozen members, this group managed to place its publications on top of hashtags that had hundreds of thousands, even millions, of publications.

Instagram quickly recognizes the challenge. "The fundamental tension is that you build a product with a surface that becomes popular, it's an important goal for spam," says Krieger. "We will see signals both on the publication side and the consumer side, since we know the direct access rate, the tracking rate, the displacement rate, we can start by saying:" this was a bad insertion "and downgrade it.

"On any platform, and especially one of our size, those dynamics are always at stake, and one thing we are very firm about is that the safety and health of our community is the top priority," Ogle said. "All this being said, one of the best things about the following hashtags is that, for the first time, it gives each hashtag an integrated audience, which has an interest in what it is seeing."


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Instagram has earned a reputation as the" nice "social network, a place that has not been affected by electoral meddling, hate speech or child exploitation. The user's growth in the service is still accelerating, so why shake the boat? The general objective, which is not mentioned, is that people dedicate more time to the service and participate more deeply. And as Instagram's growth has increased, the company has become more aggressive, not less, by experimenting with new features.

"The way we always look at this was, at the heart of Instagram, are your friends and the people you love, the service without that would be in a lot of trouble," says Krieger. "But we're not just that, we have the next ring of that, which is the interest accounts and the aggregators, the next one is the accounts you can find when you go through Explore, can we capture this existing behavior and do it better?"

] There is also a commercial logic for this. While advertising will not connect to the hashtags that follow when the product launches today, marketers will undoubtedly want to target consumers based on their interests to include them in their main feed. "I think it might make sense in the future," says Krieger. "Relevance is the first thing we think about with advertising, I can imagine the incorporation of the signal, either implicitly or explicitly, in a way that is clear."


Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Instagram knows that You are risking by injecting interests into the main power, because you have tried this adjustment before. "We experimented with the best of Explore in their main feeding, but never felt personal enough," says Krieger. Adding the ability to follow hashtags, "it's a big change," he adds, but the company is betting that its systems are now smart enough to not disappoint you.

With the recent launch of Direct, it seems that Instagram may want to create a separate experience for the messages, letting the main application focus on consumption. "It's not the kind of application that will have a menu of burgers overflowing with 50 options," says Kriger. "We have a feed, the feed is a view curated by the user in the Instagram world."

Discover Weekly turned casual listeners into Spotify superusers, and Instagram hopes that hashtags can have the same appeal for their users. "Exploring is honestly one of the reasons I left Spotify and came here, arguably the largest social discovery platform in the world," Ogle said. Hundreds of millions of people use Explore every day. "For me that's a strong signal that Instagram is already good at this, and if we rely on it we can do more."

Today's update will be a big change in how Instagram works, but Ogle is getting warmer. "For me it's not a silver bullet," he said, as we ate our decorative cakes under the pink glow of the SuperMoon neon sign. "It's a first step so that next year we can superimpose all kinds of interesting things, with hashtags like our atomic unit of interest in Instagram."


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