Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Instagram to Sort Posts by Algorithm

Yesterday Instagram announced on their blog that they would start organising photos within the app's feed by an algorithm. Instagram is doing this according to their blog,  "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most." To say that Instagram users are not happy would be an understatement. If one performs a search for "Instagram feed" on Twitter, he or she will find tweet after tweet condemning Instagram's move. There is even a petition on Change.Org to "“keep Instagram chronological." As of this writing, the petition has over 61,000 signatures. The outrage on the part of Instagram users was noticeable enough for Variety to do a story on it.

It is difficult to ascertain Instagram's motivation for sorting photos by an algorithm, particularly given the fact that users seem to hate having posts on any social media site sorted by an algorithm. Facebook's "Top Stories" feed has always been a point of contention for Facebook users. Facebook users have consistently complained about the "Top Stories" feed being the default view, preferring the "Most Recent" feed in which posts are sorted in reverse chronological order. What is more, every time Facebook has tried to do away with the "Most Recent" feed, there have been so many howls of protests that Facebook has been forced to restore it.

Howls of protest were what Twitter heard when they recently announced a feed that would be sorted by an algorithm. The outrage on the part of users was such that the hashtag #RIPTwitter trended on the site. Fortunately for Twitter users, sorting tweets by algorithm turned out to only be an option. Twitter users can turn off "show me the 'best' Tweets first" in Settings. I don't think I have to mention that most Twitter users I know have the algorithmic timeline turned off.

Despite the protests from Instagram users it is difficult to say what will come of the social media app's announcement. According to the announcement on the blog, "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." From this it sounds as if Instagram will take its time in developing an algorithmic feed and will listen to users in doing so. If that is the case, given the anger of Instagram users at the mere mention of an algorithmic feed, I suspect that it will turn out to be an option that one can turn off in settings, much the same way it is with Twitter.

If users are left with no option to sort photos by reverse chronological order as Instagram always has, then I suspect Instagram could be making a grave mistake. The outrage directed at Facebook when it has tried to do away with its "Most Recent" feed and at Twitter when it announced its algorithmic feed shows that users by and large hate having their feeds sorted by an algorithm. It would seem the average user wants his or her posts on social media sites to be sorted in reverse chronological order. If Instagram gives users no option other than an algorithmic feed, then they might well see users deserting the app in droves.


KC said...

What is this obsession with algorithms? I know they think they're serving up the best content and thus keeping people on the site longer, but surely they can see that it isn't making people happy? I like Twitter so much better when it is chronological. I did try it the other way!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I don't understand it either, K.C. Almost everyone I know who uses Facebook hates the algorithm there and has been vocal in doing so. You would think Twitter and Instagram would look at that and say, "Uhhh, no, we're not doing that!"