Nobody loves change, especially when it hits our most beloved digital services like Gmail, Facebook, Spotify, or Instagram.
The majority of the time we get over these changes and suddenly forget what these services were like before. It’s like seeing a friend’s new haircut — shocking at first, but eventually that haircut is the only one you’ve ever known. Remember Facebook before the Newsfeed? Instagram before the videos? I doubt it.
I preamble down this road so that you understand the severity of my opinion when I say: I fucking hate Instagram’s new, algorithmic feed.
It’s been six weeks since it rolled out to everyone. I’ve given it time. I’ve tried. And after much thought and deliberation, I’ve decided that I hate it.
Algorithm vs. Father Time
So we’re all on the same page, let me tell you exactly what happened. Since the dawn of time (when Instagram launched), Instagram has put its content in chronological format. That means that when you open the app, you see what was posted most recently and, as you scroll, you see older and older posts.
Then, in March, Instagram started rolling out an algorithmic timeline. By June, this ‘feature’ had reached all users.
The algorithmic feed tries to calculate what you will like best and put it at the top of your feed.
Congratulations, Instagram/Facebook, on wasting countless man hours and computational power on something almost no one wants.
In that span of time, users all over the place cried foul. Celebrities and other folks who partially rely on their Instagram traffic pleaded with users to turn on individual push notifications for their posts. Of course, this outrage died down just in time for the global release.
In June, Instagram fully rolled out “a new way of ordering posts in feed so you’ll see the moments you care about first.” LOL.
“With this new ordering you won’t miss your favorite band’s video after the concert, even if it took place across the world in a different time zone. And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts.” El. Oh. El.
It’s been six weeks since this release, and after living through it, I’ve discovered that the whole idea is just as ridiculous as it was in March, when the algorithmic feed was announced.
I took a poll yesterday on Twitter and out of 1,671 responses 88 percent of people said they prefer the old Instagram to the new.
So why does Instagram continue down this algorithmic path when it’s users clearly don’t like it?
The first reason is Facebook, the company that owns Instagram, operates its highly successful Newsfeed through an algorithm. Based on all the math currently available, it’s not ridiculous to presume that Instagram would see greater success through an algorithm the same way that the Newsfeed did.
Which brings us to engagement.
Some Instagram users remember the last post they saw when they closed the app, and they scroll all the way to that post when they open up the app again. When the feed is chronological, this is pretty easy, and it ensures that the user has seen everything from each of the people they follow.
If you opened up Instagram six hours ago, you have six hours worth of pictures to look at.
If Instagram mixes everything up, with posts from 11 hours ago on the top of the feed and posts from a few minutes ago way down the line, then the user must continue scrolling (endlessly, even) to get through every post.
“On average, people miss 70 percent of their feeds,” Instagram explained. “It’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share as Instagram has grown.”
In theory, this FOMO-driven approach means higher engagement and more advertisement views out of users.
Unless, of course, you’re a brand (but not an Instagram advertiser) that is pushing out time-sensitive posts to your followers.
In short, this ploy for engagement only benefits Instagram and the brands that choose to advertise on Instagram. And no one else.
Theory vs. Reality
Not everyone can, or will, be sucked into the endless scroll. Especially when the algorithm is serving up stuff you don’t care about.
Of course, boring posts may spark curiosity about what other pictures and videos might be lurking past the next scroll, and it may catalyze a few more swipes. But when I’m looking at shit I don’t care about, I’m pretty much done with that session of Instagram.
At least when I was looking at dumb pictures before, it was my own fault. I followed boring users, they posted, and then their content lived in my feed. There was no one to blame but myself.
Now, when my Instagram feed is boring or too full of a certain group of friends and missing another, I blame Instagram. The brand itself feels more like an extension of Facebook than a cool place to check up on my friends’ perceptions of themselves.
In short, I’m starting to get angry.
You Don’t Know Me, Instagram
And part of that anger comes from how Instagram seems to feel about me. All the presumption.
There are a wide variety of reasons to open up Instagram, ranging from very specific stalking of another person to general boredom and an impulse to browse the excitement of the lives of others.
In the same way, there are a wide variety of reasons to like something, or conversely, resist liking something.
Here are a few examples:
I follow one of my teachers from high school. We stay in touch every few months. She’s in my phonebook and she’s one of my Facebook friends. Her feed is mostly her children, and while I’ve never met them and she is most certainly not one of my best friends, I like most of her pictures. It’s one of the few ways I can stay regularly connected to her.
She is but a distant moon in my life, and now she dominates my Instagram feed.
Meanwhile, I also follow @thefatjewish and @fuckjerry. I don’t like many of their pictures because my likes don’t really make a difference to them (kind of like my vote for president). Still, I read and giggle at almost every one of their posts. I’m not friends with either of them on Facebook; they’re not in my address book.
And now, they’re nowhere to be found on my Instagram feed, either.
Likes As A Weapon
It’s safe to assume that Instagram uses ‘likes’ as its north star in this God-forsaken algorithm.
And now, I look back on many of my likes with regret. If only I’d known that Instagram would determine everything I want to see based on that double-tap, exploding heart.
I would have done things differently.
But even if I did — even if I liked only the pictures and the posters that were my absolute, objective favorites — it still wouldn’t make a difference.
A chronological timeline might sound mundane or predictable, but there is some odd serendipity and surprise that comes with seeing everything in the order that it was posted.
Less frequent posters might have put something interesting up today. Frenemies, whose photos I rarely like, might post something delightfully cringeworthy. Forgotten friends might post something from your shared history. An ex, one I didn’t designate on Facebook, might post a pic with a new boyfriend or girlfriend.
When I opened up the old Instagram, I didn’t know what I wanted to look at until it was in front of me.
Likes, in many ways, are as ambiguous as an old-school Facebook Poke. To measure what I want to see based mostly on what I’ve liked in the past is simplifying the human mind down to a spreadsheet of “If… then…” statements.
Twitter made a similar change in March, showing the best tweets first, but with an option to opt-out of that feature.
Instagram has had plenty of time to offer an opt-out for the algorithmic timeline and bring back the chronological feed. And they haven’t.
They’ve had plenty of time to introduce a toggle, where you could turn the sliding puzzle of your algorithmic timeline into something that actually makes sense. But they haven’t.
So don’t expect the new Instagram to be the app we once knew and loved.
The only solace can be found in the fact that Instagram could still launch lists, like on Twitter. Presumably, these would let us designate certain users that we want to see in chronological fashion.
It’s not a perfect solution, but if Instagram’s move towards the algorithm has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is perfect anymore.