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Instagram is embracing its inner Twitter

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With suggested follows, curated content, and perhaps soon trending hashtags, Instagram looks to kick growth into high gear

Instagram was always one of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s favorite apps. The story goes that Dorsey just barely missed his opportunity to acquire the company, which had seemed to be such a natural fit for Twitter. But two years after being acquired by Facebook, Instagram is starting to look more and more like the big brother it almost had.

When you follow someone new, Instagram now shows "Suggested" users to follow, just like Twitter. Follow Mac Demarco, and Instagram suggests his label and bandmates. Follow the Carolina Panthers and Instagram suggests you follow Cam Newton and the Charlotte Hornets. Sources tell The Verge that they’re algorithmic, not hand-curated — either way, they should dramatically increase the follower counts for notable users. It’s easy to get lost in the loop of following one celebrity, then following one of their friends, and so on.

Twitter_also_followTwitter's "You might also want to follow" pop-up

The company has also recently been quietly revamping its Explore tab. You may have noticed that friends of friends and even your favorite dog breeds have started showing up there. In short, the Explore page is no longer a joke. It’s actually useful, and echoes the utility provided by Twitter's Discover page. Tap on a photo and you might see suggestions "based on people you follow" below it. Tap on another and you might see what's "popular in your country."

These recommendations are also built on algorithms, and even stem from specific hashtags you might have liked, such as #ShibaInu. On Instagram, as with Twitter, hashtags are the name of the game — a simple way to index your photo to the rest of the world. Now, Instagram is finally taking advantage of the enormous index of hashtags its users have created. It’s easy to imagine a future where Instagram, like Twitter, promotes World Cup content or fashion week content to the top of Explore.

Instagram has become an essential way to follow the lives of celebrities

Instagram is a great way to post photos of your daily life, but to many, Instagram has taken on a much larger, more vital utility. Like Twitter, Instagram has become an essential way to follow the lives of celebrities, albeit with greater fidelity. On Instagram, every post is a photo. This is important, because many studies report that photo posts receive more engagement than text posts. On Twitter, for example, marketing firm Shift claims that "pic tweets" result in five times the engagement of text tweets. Celebrities flock to the platforms with the highest number of fans and the highest engagement.

Instagram and Twitter have always had a lot in common. Instagram will likely never replace some of the things Twitter does best, like dispensing urgent news, links, and other kinds of content. Mac Demarco, for example, uses Twitter to post full-length music videos and even pleas for help. But, by embracing the things that make Twitter so great, Instagram could meet, or even surpass, Twitter’s reign as king of live celebrity content. Recent feature additions, even those as subtle as making its Explore page scroll infinitely, show that Instagram is ready to kick growth into high gear. Meanwhile, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is looking like an even smarter move. Facebook has made countless changes over the years to look and feel more like Twitter. Now, it might not have to.