Menu
How Instagram spots a trend

How Instagram spots a trend

Instagram relies on simple automated analysis of hashtags to understand the hot topics among its users

A popular event may be covered by multiple hashtags. Instagram has devised a way to group them together.

A popular event may be covered by multiple hashtags. Instagram has devised a way to group them together.

With a user base of over 200 million people, who collectively post 70 million new photographs and short videos a day, Instagram provides a timely view of events around the world that people are interested in. But how does the service spot emerging trends while they are still on the rise?

Two of the company's engineers, Danilo Resende and Udi Weinsberg, have posted a blog item that reveals some of the company's secrets in spotting emerging trends.

The details of the company's algorithms might be of interest to other Internet-facing services also looking to harness the collective interest of the masses to produce more timely content. It also provides more light on how Instagram, and presumably other social networking sites, determine what is a trend. Like Twitter, Instagram generates its trending topics automatically.

Instagram is a mobile app for sharing photos and videos, with the majority of its users posting content captured on their phones. As a result many people capture pivotal moments of events as they are unfolding, at least of those events with pictorial elements.

For instance, a week ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its affirmative ruling on gay marriage, Instagram received thousands of new photos with the hashtag "#equality," many taken on the steps of the Supreme Court building in Washington. A hashtag is a way to annotate content on social media services, using the hash symbol in front of a keyword or a word or phrase describing the topic.

Trends and hashtags play an increasingly important role for helping users spend more time on the service. Last week, the company revamped its "Explore" feature to include more trendy content to peruse. It also revised its search feature to highlight current trends as well.

With so many users posting with multiple hashtags, how does Instagram spot emerging hot topics for its users? The company keeps a database of all the hashtags ever used, along with how often they have appeared, on average, every five minutes for the past seven days. If a tag is suddenly more popular than usual, a trend may be afoot.

The researchers noted that they could use more complex neural network-driven models to calculate when a hashtag hits that point of popularity to make it a genuine trend, but a simple comparison to the prior seven days worth of measurements does the job well enough, they note, and can spot the big trends with relatively lightweight requirements for computing processing and memory.

The model also takes into account the decline of hashtags when an event is over.

"The amount of posts using a hashtag that is trending at the moment will naturally decrease as soon as the event is finished," they write. This can be problematic insofar people still want to see pictures of an event after it has happened, so Instagram built in a decay, or half-life, function that helps highlight the trend in the hours following the event itself.

Another potential confounding issue is that multiple hashtags may be applied to the same event. For instance, the #fashionweek tag is frequently joined by #model and #fashion.

So the development teams wrote an algorithm that clusters together hashtags that refer to the same event. It looks at how often hashtags are paired together, such as #equality and #lovewins. It looks at words that are very similar, in order to detect misspellings, so that #valentinesday and #valentineday are clumped together. It also runs an internal tool that classifies tags into a predefined set of topics.

"When we approached trending, we tried to break this project down into smaller problems that could be tackled separately by components with a very specific function. As a result, each individual in our team was able to focus on one problem at a time before moving onto the next one," the researchers wrote.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Development toolsapplication developmentInstagramsoftware

Featured

Slideshows

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

​As the channel changes and industry voices deepen, the need for clarity and insight heightens. Market misconceptions talk of an “under pressure” distribution space, with competitors in that fateful “race for relevance” across New Zealand. Amidst the cliched assumptions however, distribution is once again showing its strength, as a force to be listened to, rather than questioned. Traditionally, the role was born out of a need for vendors and resellers to find one another, acting as a bridge between the testing lab and the marketplace. Yet despite new technologies and business approaches shaking the channel to its very core, distributors remain tied to the epicentre - providing the voice of reason amidst a seismic industry shift. In looking across both sides of the vendor and partner fences, the middle concept of the three-tier chain remains centrally placed to understand the metrics of two differing worlds, as the continual pulse checkers of the local channel. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable, in association with Dicker Data and rhipe, examined the pivotal role of distribution in understanding the health of the channel, educating from the epicentre as the market transforms at a rapid rate.

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel
Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar last night, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and resellers descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kickstart 2017. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017
Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow Electronics introduced Tenable Network Security to local resellers in Sydney last week, officially launching the distributor's latest security partnership across Australia and New Zealand. Representing the first direct distribution agreement locally for Tenable specifically, the deal sees Arrow deliver security solutions directly to mid-market and enterprise channel partners on both sides of the Tasman.

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel
Show Comments