David Amerland

Instagram Search is a Sign of Things to Come

Instagram Does Web Search

Instagram’s announcement of the launch of its latest web search feature is important for a number of key reasons.  First, we are in the age of information. A competitive advantage lies not in having access to information, we have the tools today to do this easily, but in gaining clear insights and understandings from it, first. In other words information needs to be structured in order to acquire meaning that is relevant to us, otherwise the things that matter to us are lost in masses of irrelevant stuff and the ‘noise’ drowns out the ‘signal’ we are looking for.

The signal to noise ratio

In communication theory the Shannon-Hartley Theorem says that “…the maximum rate at which information can be transmitted over a communications channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise” is determined by, amongst other parameters, the signal strength over the background noise. 

To a simple mind the solution to being heard is to simply shout louder (i.e. making the signal as strong as possible) but that usually means losing one’s voice plus it only works if no one else follows suit and also starts yelling. 

A far better solution is to find a means to allow a whisper to travel to the ears of the person it is intended for, and that’s exactly what semantic search and semantic technology is designed to do. Instagram’s 300 million active monthly users share some 70 million photographs each day and in order for all that to begin to make some kind of sense that has an impact, a level of organization is required that can then lead to discovery. 

Search is Key to Organizing information

It seems ridiculous but without search information is lost into a disorganized pile. A little like making notes of items important to you which you then keep in a draw, the tactic loses its meaning entirely the moment the draw gets full of bits of paper and you no longer remember what you wrote down, this day, last year and stored there. 

Organizing things in filings, as you go along is no solution either. As information grows its meaning also changes. Like pieces to a puzzle that are constantly being added to the edges, the picture gets bigger which means that the context and importance of the things in the center also changes. 

What we need then is what we have at the moment: self-organizing information that exists in a highly structured form in an index that is constantly being enriched and re-evaluated so that results can be surfaced in a context-sensitive way. 

The Instagram Search Question

The reasons why Instagram launched search are obvious and all other considerations aside have to do with Relevance, with a capital “R” on the web, today. A web service or an app that does not, in some way, also promote discovery of useful information, the surfacing of new information and the ability to build a sense of community, however loosely, is not going to succeed for very long. 

Of course, at the moment, Instagram uses popularity of posts and hashtags to index and organize the photographs in its database but semantic technology needs to start off from some point and then begin to scale as the information becomes more structured and organized and ontologies are built into it. 

Good News for Marketers

This is where the news for marketers who are pressed for time and unfamiliar with every social network platform out there, gets good. You don’t have to specifically worry about any of them. Case in point, though I have an Instagram account I have probably posted no more than a handful of times on the platform and even then, nothing too deep. 

Yet a hashtag search for #semanticsearch produced pictures of my book on the subject posted by Dustin Stout and Martin Brossman

Instagram Semantic Search


When information becomes structured it also becomes portable and can be exported anywhere as well as imported anywhere. This means that if you’re serious about marketing anything you need to focus on:

  • Quality
  • Relevance
  • Value

These are the three key requirements that enable social sharing to take place and information to be indexed in places beyond its point of origin. It also then allows further resurfacing to occur based upon:

  • Context
  • Relevance
  • Usefulness

These are signals that are provided by those who carry out a search and act as a primary filtering algorithm. As technology gets smarter the smart money should be on content that is intelligent, valuable and which serves a purpose beyond that of marketing a service or a product. 

The web is getting more “real” by the day. 

© 2019 David Amerland. All rights reserved