Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Defaults Matter

Joanna Stern, of Wall Street Journal, in an article about the importance of default settings:

Facebook offers a “Recent” or chronological feed, but despite company efforts to improve it, the setting, on my iPhone, is still more buried than tulip bulbs. Tap the menu in the bottom right of your iPhone app, then See More > Recent & Favorites. At the top of your feed you’ll now see the Recent feed option. What happens next is maddening: As soon as you close the app and reopen it, the feed reverts to its old algorithmic self.

A Facebook spokesman didn’t tell me why, but pointed to a company page that explained how algorithms help people find what is most valuable to them.

As Stern writes, Twitter also allows users to toggle between a reverse-chronological timeline and an algorithmic one. Like Facebook’s, it sometimes reverts to the algorithmic feed after a while — though it does persist across app sessions, it is unclear to me what triggers it to automatically switch back. Twitter is currently experimenting with a clearer toggle, which I see in my @pxlnv account but not my (much older) @nickheer account, and it works fine.

It does not matter whether you prefer an algorithmic feed or one sorted only by time. Both are good ways to use social media apps for different reasons. If a platform owner would prefer to only have an algorithmic timeline, I think that is fine, too. But if a choice is presented — which I prefer — the service should at least respect that preference and maintain it.


Instagram doesn’t even offer a chronological-feed alternative. An Instagram spokesman gave me a similar answer to the one I got a few months ago: With the old chronological feed, people missed 70% of their posts. Algorithms can serve up more content from friends, he said.

Two days ago, I asked Instagram what percent of posts users miss when they use the algorithmic feed instead, but I have not heard back.