I think an additional function is needed in order to make content viewing more interesting, and popularization more fair. At the moment, the 'fresh' section shows ALL the content being uploaded to the site, and the 'popular' section, even with the seven-day modification, is filled with the same images for an entire week. These are fine for an overview, but not for a 'live' understanding of what's being posted and enjoyed.
This new function would sort posts by the amount of views, favorites and general engagement they have received over a shorter period of time. A check could be carried out every hour - Posts which have recently gotten the most favourites and engagement would be put at the top of the list, and can then slowly filter down the list as the initial explosion of engagement fades. This puts content that people want to see rapidly in front of more viewers, instead of it struggling to overcome the existing popular content on the front page.
This is how Imgur functions by default, and what Reddit does with its 'hot' system and it works very well to give posts fair exposure, before allowing new ones to push through. It means posts don't have to reach that huge level of favourites to be seen; they just have to be getting a good amount of engagement overall.
This could even replace the Popular functionality entirely. People want to see what is popular at the time versus what has been popular for the last week - They come to the site daily to see fresh content that's also quality, right? For this reason I would suggest that this could even be the default view.
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