Instagram Location Stories appear in Explore. Is Story Search coming?

It’s taking Instagram less and less time to copy Snapchat. Less than two months after Snapchat launched its Stories Search feature for seeing what’s going on at a location or related to a topic, Instagram is rolling out Location Stories to its Explore page.

Last week, TechCrunch broke the news that Instagram was testing Location Stories, which aggregate into a collaborative slideshow the publicly posted Stories tagged with a location sticker. This lets you see Stories from strangers to get a sense for what’s up at a certain place, such as Times Square in the last 24 hours, like the weather, events going on or how many people are there.

Instagram shows Location Stories in Explore

But at the time, you could only find Location Stories by clicking through a location sticker on someone’s Story or navigating to that location’s Instagram Page.

Now TechCrunch has spotted Instagram highlighting Location Stories in the Explore tab’s Stories section, seen in the screenshot above. Previously this only showed top Stories and live broadcasts from user accounts. This will make Location Stories much more serendipitously discoverable. Instagram declined to comment for this story, but given that we have a clear screenshot, the company’s reluctance may foreshadow an official announcement in the future.

The Instagram Location Stories features beg the question of whether Instagram is preparing a full-fledged Stories Search option. This could let you see aggregated Stories about hashtag or keyword, as well as locations.

[Update 5/23/17: Instagram just announced its launching Stories Search for locations and hashtags.]

At first, Instagram might just use formal hashtag or location stickers in Stories to identify what should appear in search results. But eventually it could include Stories posts with the searched keyword written as a caption or drawing, or when the keyword is related to emoji or stickers in the post. And with the right technology in place, Instagram could detect objects, people or places in Stories to surface “Statue of Liberty” Stories shot at the landmark, even if they don’t mention it by name.

By letting people search for and watch Stories related to anything, Instagram could boost viewing time, earn more revenue by serving ads inside these searched Stories and equip users with new use cases like the ability to see what’s going on somewhere right now. Instagram could even let businesses pay to curate their location or brand’s Story, or include promotional material.

Snapchat’s new Stories Search feature

Snapchat Stories Search can show you a slideshow of all the Stories posts from a location that were submitted to Our Story

Snapchat is already using all the signals mentioned above to surface things in its Stories Search┬áthat launched at the end of March. It’s even letting you watch Stories shot more than 24 hours ago. Snapchat’s whole search feature is privacy-safe because all searchable Stories have to be voluntarily submitted to the Snapchat “Our Story.”

Instagram does not appear to be requiring users to opt-in or volunteer to have their content appear in Location Stories, as long as their Stories are tagged with the location sticker, and are public — which is the same as how Instagram picks permanent posts to appear in its Explore tab. The same might go for a possible search feature.

The problem is that might put a chilling effect on people sharing more intimate Stories. Even if the content is public, Snapchat has trained people to feel like Stories are more private. Instagram might want to offer some opt-out of Stories content appearing in search or Explore, or restrict inclusions to Stories purposefully tagged with a hashtag or location sticker.

Soon we might be seeing another battle between Instagram and Snapchat flare up around search. Snapchat’s strategy would see it able to index Stories for search by any signal, but only if and because they’re purposefully submitted to Our Story. Instagram might draw from a larger pool of content by not requiring formal submission, but restrict itself to fewer signals to index content.

We’ll see whether Instagram or Snapchat can win the window into every place or topic, not just our friends’ lives.