Commentary

Why Instagram Is Right To Shove Its Algorithm Down Users' Throats

Misguided though they are, plenty of Instagram users are pissed about the company's plans to begin arranging posts by algorithmic order.

“NO NO NO NO NO,” harangued one Tumblr user who goes by the handle homefries.

“HORRIBLE IDEA!” insisted nonsuchgarden.

“If I wanted Facebook-style posting I would have set up an account with Facebook,” said leesee3.

Like it or not, Facebook-style posting is exactly what Instagram users are getting -- and whether they know it or not, it’s the best thing for everyone.

Like Facebook before it, Instagram has simply become too big for arranging posts in reverse-chronological order.

Average users just don’t have the time or thumb strength to scroll through their entire feeds. Odds are, therefore, that the content they are seeing -- i.e., the stuff that has been posted most recently -- is not the “best” content in their feed.

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Of course, I put the word “best” in quotation marks, because content value is entirely subjective. That’s where Instagram’s algorithm comes in.

“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,” Instagram explains.

Ultimately, the network’s success is riding on its ability to fulfill this promise.

The move is not without risk, but the alternative is, well, Twitter. For years, it refused to fiddle with the order of user feeds, and the result was an increasingly worthless content experience. Twitter very recently began testing relevance-based feeds, but not before immense damage was done.

No matter how loudly some users wail, it would be a huge mistake for Instagram to go down the same dark path to irrelevance.

2 comments about "Why Instagram Is Right To Shove Its Algorithm Down Users' Throats".
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  1. larry towers from nyu, March 16, 2016 at 1:43 p.m.

    "... the same dark path to irrelevance."


    You seem to be confusing irrelevance for advertisers with irrelevance for users.

  2. Jim Anderson from SocialFlow, March 16, 2016 at 5:56 p.m.

    This analysis is spot on. Bret Taylor (@btaylor), former CTO of Facebook, had a great Tweet on the subject: "Algorithmic feed was always the thing people said they didn't want but demonstrated they did via every conceivable metric. It's just better."  And Larry, the algorithms that are used to serve organic content have little (perhaps nothing) to do with the algorithms around ad targeting. Instagram already offers very effective ad targeting, and this announcement doesn't change that.

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