Stories, Shopping, and Streamlining: Your Guide to Instagram’s Latest Moves

As its parent company Facebook looks inward, Instagram wants to provide a window on the world through new sharing and Explore features.

As Instagram continues its dominance in the market for brands and creators alike, they continue to tinker with their interface and elevate new features key to their growth. Here, we share some of their latest updates- and what they’ll mean for your experience on the app.

“Explore” Expands to Include Shopping and IGTV

According to one Instagram spokesperson, the Explore tab is used by more than half of the platform’s users each month. To that end, the company is committed to “investing heavily in Explore with the goal of making it the best online destination for your interests and making it evolve over time as your interests do to.” The company’s Product Lead for Discovery Will Ruben agreed, saying “Explore shows you the full [breadth] of content on Instagram that are relevant to your interests.”

To that end, expect to see a wider variety of videos, photos, and shopping posts, powered by intelligence from other accounts you like and follow on a regular basis. And for brands using the platform, effective hashtagging will aid in your discovery in the tab. In addition to wider content sharing on the site, look forward to a few more styles of content there. Tabs for Shopping posts and IGTV have joined the Explore tab, likely to boost their profile alongside standing categories for travel, food, and clothing. Tapping on Shop will summon shopping posts sorted into categories like Beauty, Clothing, and Home Decor. And IGTV, which has otherwise struggled in its first year, will now appear prominently in this frequently trafficked space. But another, more heavily used feature, will also be making its debut on the Explore tab.

Stories Get Discoverable Through Explore

For their massive popularity, the less structured and ephemeral Instagram Stories have stayed largely private. But as Explore grows, this is about to change. “Stories are now eligible to show up in the Explore tab for the first time,” reports TechCrunch. The form has inspired many new types of content; by making these posts more public, Instagram hopes to “[give] creators a way to get discovered through their intimate, silly, behind-the-scenes content instead of just their manicured feed posts.”

Originally an idea borrowed from Snapchat and deployed as a feature in 2016, Stories have since roared past Feed posts in terms of popularity and usage. Now, these frequently informal posts are making a more public debut. They’ll appear in Stories based on their similarity to accounts users already follow and interact with. Whereas permanent posts have fallen victim to expectations for aesthetics and frequency, Stories are looser, more freeform, and—due in part to their ephemeral nature—create less pressure on users to rack up likes and comments, allowing for looser and more free-form content.

But, as this Snapchat-inspired feature thrives, another one is being sunsetted by the company.

Standalone Apps Say Goodbye

Instagram Direct, a standalone app launched in December 2017 to compete with Snapchat’s core direct messaging capability, will fade away in the coming weeks. Users were notified via an in-app message, letting them know “[their] conversations will automatically move over to Instagram, so [they] don’t need to do anything.” In many ways, the move to consolidate features differs from that of Instagram’s parent company Facebook, whose standalone Messenger app serves a similar function.

Instagram Direct never actually launched globally, only officially debuting in a small number of countries, and yet its collapse into Instagram – easily done, since many of its features have since been incorporated into the main app’s functionality – is a sign of a streamlining for the company. The standalone app Boomerang was similarly absorbed by the main app, to wild popularity and high utilization. For Instagram users, the fewer ways to interact with the app appears preferable—and so the company has responded in kind.

Even as Instagram continues to rise in usage and popularity, it clearly isn’t comfortable resting on its laurels. It’s future seems to be in widening our view of the world, and we look forward to seeing the sorts of stories that will come from its continued evolution.

Article written by: Amma Marfo