Instagram Stories wants to be your window into what’s going on around a topic or place right now, so it’s adding a way to search Stories two months after Snapchat did the same. Instagram users can now search for a location or hashtag, and see a Story compiled from Story posts by other users that include that location sticker, hashtag sticker, or hashtag in the caption. Location Stories from nearby places (but not Hashtag Stories) will also appear featured in the Explore tab.
Story Search could open new use cases on Instagram, like checking out the weather, crowd, or what’s going on at a location right now, or seeing what people are doing or thinking about a major news topic or random theme. That could boost usage time of Stories while adding utility to the app, though for now Instagram says there’ll be no ads in Story Search or Explore.
TechCrunch broke the news about Instagram testing Location Stories last week. Then yesterday we spotted Location Stories appearing in Explore and predicted that Story Search would come next. Now Location Stories are available in search and Explore on iOS and Android, with Hashtag Stories rolling out over the next few weeks.
“From discovering new parts of your own city to jogging alongside the #fromwhereirun community all around the world, location and hashtag stories help you share these experiences as they unfold” Instagram writes.
Only content tagged with a location sticker, hashtag sticker, or underlined hashtag will appear in the associated Stories. Instagram tells TechCrunch that users who do add these stickers or hashtags that make their posts eligible for these compiled Stories can opt out of having their content distributed more widely by clicking the ‘X’ on their Stories view counter, where they’ll also see how many people saw their post through Explore.
For privacy, you’ll only see public posts in these Stories, or private posts by people who let you follow them.
That differs from Snapchat’s Search privacy model. There you have to explicitly submit a Story post to Snapchat’s collaborative “Our Story” to have it appear in search. But once you do submit it, Snapchat will look at the text captions, emojis, stickers, lenses, geolocation, and meta data plus use machine vision to detect objects or scenes in the Snap to algorithmically index it for search.
So Instagram doesn’t require explicit submission, but then employs fewer explicit signals to index content for search, while Snapchat requires explicit submission and the indexes with a wide range of signals. Both use algorithmic curation to scalably sort through the reams of eligible posts and surface the most relevant ones in search.
Instagram and Snapchat are fighting to get you to watch more than just your friends’ content. Some people’s social graphs just might not produce enough high-quality stuff to view. But by unlocking the contributions of all their users, Instagram and Snapchat could keep their users tuned in after they watch what’s up with their best friends.
And that’s where Instagram’s scale comes in. With Instagram now at 700 million monthly users, 400 million daily users, and 200 million daily Stories users, it has more people to pull content from than Snapchat with its 166 million daily users. That could give Instagram better coverage of landmarks, events, and big trends as it tries to show you the real-time moments of the world.