Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Instagram Users Prompting Followers to Turn on Notifications in Preparation for an Algorithmic Feed

Romain Dillet, TechCrunch:

Like most feed-based networks, Instagram is starting to feel like a crowded place. People now follow hundreds of accounts and receive dozens of new photos per hour. Good posts are getting lost in the middle of not-so-good posts.

User experience suffers, people are less inclined to use Instagram. And that’s why Instagram has a solution. Soon (but not tomorrow), Instagram’s magical robots will put the best photos at the top of your feed. If posts don’t perform well, Instagram won’t show those posts to all followers.

I’m not sure this is going to be as shocking for the majority of users as some are making it out to be. But there are legitimate concerns. Mine is that an algorithmic treats each post as though it were an interchangeable — *sigh* — piece of content, giving each photo a weighting based on its popularity. Inevitably, bigger brands and famous users will garner more likes and be vastly more popular than you or I.

However, our relationships with the people we follow are not necessarily governed by popularity, and it’s hard to trust an automated, weighted system with providing the posts I really do care about most of the time. Facebook has the same problem — though Dillet cites it as a success story, I see nothing but posts from Wired, Jalopnik, Lapham’s Quarterly, and other pages I follow. Of the posts that are supposed to be from my real-life friends, almost all are actually from a handful of people, most of which I rarely interact with. Meanwhile, stuff from the friends that I actually care about almost never appears in my timeline.

This could merely indicate that I don’t spend a lot of time using Facebook, and that I don’t provide them with enough information to make an accurate judgement of who I really care about. And I guess that’s my concern with Instagram adopting such a timeline: either I refuse to provide them with significant data and I see only the most popular posts, or I give them more information to hopefully see more relevant posts and, it must be said, ads. I’m not sure that’s a fair exchange.