Hey Instagram! Stop being “smart”

You’ve probably seen the news from Instagram about how they want us to see “See the Moments You Care About First”. I think it is a wonderful idea that can go completely wrong. If you think about it, the Instagram experience is so easy to grasp. Things are posted in chronological order and you can scroll back in time. Remember when you just had to open Twitter to see the latest things that happened instead of having to scroll through posts that an algorithm has chosen for you?

It is a tricky to do automated things right. About 7–8 years ago I took part in a tutorial at a computer human interaction conference, which was partly interesting. One take-away from the tutorial was that the user should mentally be able to understand why something appears in a certain way and why certain information is shown. Otherwise there is a risk of the user being annoyed and feeling frustrated. A functionality that focuses on showing the messages “you care about first” needs to do this right otherwise it will fail.

Both user groups wants to see photos from their friends and family because it matters to them.

When I have been talking to Instagram users about this change I have met two common types of users, the ones that follows lots of users and the ones that follows a maximum 100 users, mainly friends. Both user groups wants to to see photos from their friends and family because it matters to them. They also want to see photos from celebrities, artists and brands to be entertained or educated. A risk with the change of the Instagram feed is that the photos that matters to the users is down-prioritized compared to popular photos. These are just two of the user groups that Instagram targets and there might be completely different needs for other groups.

They don’t want to risk missing out on things

Users that follow thousands of accounts have told me that they sometimes manually visit friends and family accounts because they don’t want to risk missing out on things.

Users that follow mainly family and friends, checks their feed to see if something has happened since their last visit. They are not interested in seeing different photos and the comments more than once or maybe twice.

Maybe this is what Instagram is trying to solve with their new algorithm. But wouldn’t it be much more interesting to give more power to the user to organize their feed? Lists, such as on Twitter, could be really useful if you want to family members photos. The users that has a need to organized their feed generally have an idea on how they want to see things. And if they don’t know, why don’t give suggestions on how these lists could look like based on whatever Instagram (or Facebook) knows.

Instagram might have thought about these scenarios and hopefully the new sort order will work for most users. But if they don’t get it right they might just be another company that’s overengineering and tries to be “smart”.

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