Keyword search is coming to Instagram

Instagram users’ ability to search is getting an upgrade. Today, the company announced that English-speaking users in six countries, including the UK, US, Ireland, and Canada, will be able to search the platform using keywords. Before today, they could only search for hashtags or accounts. So, for example, if you previously wanted to find “healthy recipes,” you’d only be able to search for posts that tagged #healthyrecipes or accounts with variations on “healthy recipes” in their name or bio. Now, however, Instagram will let people search the keywords themselves, meaning posts that feature healthy recipes should surface, even if the specific tag is missing.

It’s unclear how the service determines what a post is about, though. My search for healthy recipes yielded gluten-free and paleo cookie recipes, for example, which likely isn’t what someone is trying to find when they search for healthy recipes.

A company spokesperson says the team considers “a number of factors,” including the “type of content, captions, when it was posted,” and more to surface relevant results. It also uses machine learning to “find the highest quality content that’s relevant to you.” For now, only grid posts will show up.

This is a relatively big change for surfacing content. Instagram has always been frustratingly limited in giving people the ability to find the posts they really want. Instagram says only certain terms will be searchable, though. “The search is limited to general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines,” the spokesperson says.

My keyword search is already live, and I’m unable to search for “vaccines,” “QAnon,” or even “Trump” or “Biden.” I can search “puppies,” “pasta,” or “flowers,” however. The search is definitely limited. Still, for the seemingly few benign things people can search for, the keywords are useful and will likely help users find new content that better fits what they want.

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