What the Instagram Popular Page Has Become

In case you haven't noticed,
it's no longer named Popular Page.
There was a time when the Instagram Popular Page was open to everybody. Get enough likes within a short period and you might just get your moment of fame.

Early this year though, an usual pattern emerged. Only those with at least 10,000 followers entered the coveted gallery.

Then Popular became Explore.

Ironically, after changing the name of the page, Explore became even more exclusive to the truly popular: Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Snoop Dog, LA Lakers. Someone needs hundreds of likes in less than 10 minutes to get shown on that page. The stairs suddenly became Mt. Everest.

Look at the stats below:
Figure 1. You need thousands of followers to nail the required like count.

So why did Instagram change it? 

There's no logical reason, other than to prevent folks from gaming the system. Rumor has it that people used to collaborate to artificially bring their photos to the Popular Page. They converge under a specific tag and give likes on each other's photo at the same short time frame.

But isn't it similar to a band member asking for his friends to come watch his group perform, and show support by applauding after the song number? These are consenting individuals who willingly devote time to help one another.

On second thought, could this be a monetization strategy in the works? By focusing on celebrities - people proven to generate ad revenue, Instagram may be planning something radically different for this page. An IG Jumbotron perhaps?

But it's not official you know...

To date, the Instagram Help Center still claims that the Popular Page is open to everyone. This documentation needs a serious overhaul then:
Figure 2. These statements are no longer true.
Being the carrier of the torch of mobile photography, Instagram owes it to its users to bring back the Explore page to its original format - a place of opportunity. It's the same formula that encouraged many users to take better pictures, learn advanced editing and share more meaningful photos.

If you're already a celebrity to begin with, people will look for you to follow you - they will Google your Instagram handle, they will see it all over E! Channel. Justin Beiber garnered thousands of followers on the same day he created his account. Famous people don't need extra exposure on this gallery - it's overkill. Variety is nowhere in sight.

How About Giving These a Try?

If there's one important change that must be done - it is to introduce a ceiling on the number of times a certain account can appear on the page. It will prevent abuse, introduce diversity and ultimately create room for others. Here are some better ways to tweak the Pop formula:
  1. Randomize it - totally. How about plucking someone from the crowd and giving him or her a moment of fame? It will be a great day when the algorithm starts to pick random users. It can't further undermine the quality of the already mediocre photos shown on the page.
  2. Randomize from Hashtags. Hashtags are there to lead you to your interests - but they're not designed to be accessible. It makes a huge difference between manually searching for the word #tree, than being presented with an interesting photo of a tree on the spot. How about selecting a unique tag daily and featuring all photos that flow into that tag? Tag of the Day sounds good.
  3. Add Curators. As Chris of appdaptation.com suggested via a twitter: put in curators. It's still best to have a human element involved in the decision-making process as to what's to appear on that page - just as forums have moderators.
  4. Feature the Suggested Users instead. If the idea of randomizing the page seems far-fetched, then it's better to feature the suggested users instead. Most of them are quality follows, but too bad that the button to reach them is buried deep under the options menu.
The Explore Page should be a venue for – guess what? Exploration. It should be a public park where you could virtually glance at every passerby. It should be an opportunity to meet new folks – ordinary folks who probably share the same interest as you.

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  1. Great points, Jops! Truly, if anyone wants to reach the "Explore" page, their first step should be to get 10,000 followers. A few months ago I did a post with tips on how to reach the then-"popular" page but they're not as relevant now for the reasons you cite. Those tips are still useful for getting the most out of the Instagram experience and taking good photos, I like to think. Here's a link if you're interested: How to Get Famous on Instagram: 10 tips

    To your suggestion, I'd love to see photos based on my recent searches, or my most frequently used tags... since those are areas I'd actually be interested in exploring. What a concept, right?

    1. Thanks for visiting Richard. Your link is still valuable as before - it's all about the quality relationships you create within your own community, no matter how small it is.

      But the Instagram team should seriously rethink about the Explore Page. I agree with you - it should propel users towards their own interests, rather than show the aggregated interests of many.

  2. Hi! I've just been reading through a few of your articles on here. They are really well written and interesting. It would be nice if "the powers that be" on IG took some of your ideas and ran with them. I've been on IG for nearly 2 years so I've seen a lot of changes. Some good, some not so much. It's sad that it's not so much about quality photographs anymore. Still.... You can find them if you look. Just dont rely on the "pop" page right? ;)


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