Instagram announces improved features that put the focus on what's live

Instagram has updated its search and explore functions

Coming to you live from Instagram.

The photo-sharing app announced this week two improved functions that put the emphasis on real time. The reimagined Explore page features popular hashtags and places that highlight relevant, up-to-the-minute trends as they emerge. Meanwhile, the more powerful search feature makes it easier for users to find the people, places and tags they're looking for.

"With more than 70 million photos and videos posted to Instagram every day, wherever something is happening, chances are you can see it here," Instagram said.

Instagram is one of the must-have apps for mobile users, allowing people to access a stream of photos from friends, family and celebrities they choose to follow. But discovering new and timely content has been a confusing endeavor.

As a longtime Instagram user, I've rarely touched the Explore function within the app because it always seemed to be an odd jumble of images that largely didn't appeal to me: baby pics, humor posts, images of pingpong paddles.

In its announcement, Facebook-owned Instagram acknowledged that "there's never been an easy way to find" compelling, timely images. And that's a problem for the company, particularly as more social media apps highlight what's happening at that exact moment.

Venice-based Snapchat is the leader when it comes to ephemerality and has taken its own steps to expand its app with more of a focus on live. But Twitter, Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook, too, are very much in the live game, whether it's broadcasting live events or promoting the latest trending topics.

Instagram's new Explore feature is available only to U.S. users for now, while the improved search function rolled out to all users.

Follow Andrea Chang on Twitter.

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