Instagram’s feed algorithm

Alex Parker on Medium discussing How Instagram’s algorithm is holding us captive:

Let’s be honest: the algorithm serves advertisers. Instagram is a free service, and it needs to make money. For years, it was free of advertisements. Then it had a few. Now, every few posts is sponsored. To tell the truth, I don’t mind the ads. They aren’t intrusive, they’re easy to scroll past, and I’m all for something I like finding ways to be sustainable. A business has to make money.

But why does it have to be at the expense of users and their enjoyment of a product?

[…]

As a journalist, who has a real-time Twitter feed inches from my face most hours of the day, I know I’m not the typical social media user (I’m also older than the average Instagram user, but age is just a number, right?). But because I use social networks so much, I want them to respond to my needs, rather than treating me like a captive pawn.

Parker is arguing that, as a heavy user, he should have a real-time view of what’s happening on Instagram. I can understand this—I exclusively use Tweetbot for Twitter so that I am always seeing posts in reverse-chronological order.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed’s Mat Honan and Alex Kantrovitz interviewed Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. The timeline came up, along with questions about real-time viewing:

Nowhere in our mission is it about being real-time. I don’t think we are focused on making sure you have a news feed of an unfolding event in real-time view. And I think that’s okay. You should still see rainbows, generally, together — especially if they’re good rainbows, in which case the best ones will rise to the top.

That’s OK, I guess, but it would be helpful to have an option to change the order. This wouldn’t need to affect advertising.

He also shared some other ways they thought about implementing ephemerality for what would become Instagram Stories:

As we dug into our user studies, I realized very quickly that we had to find a solution that made it so you didn’t have to post your profile,” Systrom explained. “After some tests, we added a check box that said ‘expire from my profile’ or ‘don’t post to my profile.’ But no one understood why they would do that.

I rarely ever look at the stories posted by people I follow—which are dominated by a handful of heavy users—and seldom post to my own. I’d be interested to find out usage rates across the 500m active users.