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No One Is Going Back to a Chronological Feed
Today Instagram brought back a chronological feed option because they know no one will use it.
I was part of a test group, so I’ve had the chronological feed option on my personal Instagram account for over a month now. I haven’t touched it. It’s hidden away at the top of my feed—you have to click “Home” at the top and a drop down allows you to select “Following” or “Favorites”. The result is a bare bones feed, with the IG Stories at the top disappearing, launching me into a date-determined scroll. It’s a feature (or product reversion) that many have been hoping for, and one that I think would help people maintain a way more healthy, less addictive relationship with the app. But here’s the catch: today Instagram confirmed that this will be an experience that users need to manually opt into every time they open the app. That’s like handing a soda to someone every time they walk in a grocery store and expecting them to swap it for water.
Let’s back up. In March of 2016 Instagram first announced it was switching from a chronological feed to an algorithm feed that ranked the “best” posts first. It was introduced, yes, to make the app more relevant for users, but ultimately to keep people on the app longer so Instagram could serve more ads and increase profits. A Guardian article from the time explains the public-facing thinking at Instagram, “Instagram first announced the impending change in mid-March, saying that the average Instagram user (‘you may be surprised to learn’) missed 70% of their feed. An algorithm-driven feed, ‘ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most’, would be introduced ‘in the coming months’ to rectify this.”
When this was announced and rolled out, users were not happy. And what immediately followed was panic (remember everyone asking you to turn on post notifications?) and too many articles on “how to beat the algorithm”. Since then, it’s been a steady drumbeat of information (and misinformation) around the algorithm. And while the algorithm to this day gets a bad rap, I can almost guarantee we are all addicted to it.
Meanwhile, back at Instagram during these changes they saw an increase in revenue (they don’t release financials but research companies have estimated) and new users. The algorithm was imperative to making Instagram (and, ultimately, Facebook) money. Worth noting, two years after the algorithm switch, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger left Instagram due to “increasing tension with Facebook”, according to The Verge.
Today we’re learning that Instagram is giving users the option to switch into a pre-2016 chronological feed. Just like old times, right? Not really. At this point, I personally fear that we’ve been conditioned through the post-2016 Instagram algorithm, the new TikTok algorithm, and all the other algorithms that rule our lives to have an attention span that almost requires an algorithm. I don’t think I am the only one. A large group (including myself) got access to this chronological feature in January, and through this initial test Instagram has clearly determined they can still make enough money by giving all users the chronological option. Why? Likely because very few people opt in every time they open the app. It’s intentionally clunky. And, the worst part, when you do get over to it…it’s boring.
For me, it’s too little too late. Instagram got us addicted to their app using an algorithm, and now they are giving us a purposefully hard-to-find feature for some good PR. When they make the chronological option something that we can permanently select, then we can talk. Maybe “poo” was the right clue after all.
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