Instagram Embraces The Algorithm — Switches From Showing Newest First

Some big news in the social media world this morning was that Instagram is embracing the algorithm. Instead of seeing posts from Instagram accounts you follow in “reverse chronological order” (newest updates first) you now will see them in an order determined by Instagram. As the company wrote in a blog post today (my emphasis added):

You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.
To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.
The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

Note that important part:

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

Your feed will “show the moments WE believe”.

Instagram decides.

You have no say in the matter.

Now, of course, Instagram’s parent Facebook has been doing this for years now. Twitter, too, has recently embraced the algorithm saying in February that users would start seeing “the Tweets you’re most likely to care about” at the top of your timeline..

Algorithms are not necessarily bad.

I wrote about this topic over on Ello a month ago in a post “Sometimes Algorithms Help Us” [1].

The reality is that algorithms can help us sort through the deluge of content that is exploding on all the social services. As I wrote in that Ello post referencing first blogging and then Twitter:

The deluge of content became too hard for one person to handle

Algorithms can help us sort through the deluge and try to bring to the surface the most interesting and useful items.

The big question is — who is in control of the algorithm?

Is it ME, the user?

Or is it the service/platform?

And in that case how will they potentially manipulate the algorithm toward their own ends?

The problem is that there is a great potential for abuse on the part of the service/platform. As I noted in my recent post about Facebook Reactions, Facebook manipulated users newsfeeds back in 2012 as part of an experiment about moods.

Beyond that, I know many folks, myself included, who just assume that Facebook and now Twitter (and now Instagram) will use the algorithm to manipulate our feeds to show us more advertising and sponsored posts.

They have to, really, in order to pay their investors given that advertising is really their only revenue source.

And this is the problem — the algorithm is a “black box”. We, the users, have no idea what is inside of it or how it works.

The corporation is entirely in control.

They are the gatekeeper of the content we see.

Ideally we would have some degree of transparency and control. We would at least know how the algorithm is affecting what we see. But we don’t for most of these services.

In their blog post today, the folks at Instagram write:

We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months.

I hope they do listen — and I hope they do help us at least understand how the algorithm will shape what we see.

Perhaps they’ll take some inspiration from Facebook that still provides (at least for the moment) the option to change to see the most recent updates:

Although I thought I saw somewhere some stat that only a very few people actually use that option.

Meanwhile, all we can do is embrace the algorithm ourselves… we have no control over the Instagram platform. That is entirely in the hands of the corporation (Facebook) behind it. If we are to continue using it, we are subject to their whims and desires.

Welcome to our brave new world where the corporations are the gatekeepers of what we see.

And, in truth, the algorithm just may help us find more interesting and relevant images within the deluge of Instagram photos.

What do you think? Will embracing the algorithm help make Instagram more interesting and useful? Or do you see this as a cynical attempt to merely get more advertising visible to us?

P.S. Many more stories about this change are appearing on Techmeme.


[1] Note to self: need to pull that post out of Ello’s walls and publish it here on the open web.

Originally published on Disruptive Conversations

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