Instagram has lifted the lid off of the science that powers its feed.
In 2016, the social media giant introduced algorithmic software to the app that determines how posts populate your Instagram feed.
It meant that newer posts don’t always appear at the top of the app, which left many users feeling frustrated.
Instagram has since responded to users’ widespread criticism, tweaking the algorithm so that it displays a combination of posts you may have missed, as well as newer ones.
But it still remains unclear to some how Instagram organizes users’ feeds, so at an event on Wednesday, the firm sought to clear that up by giving a detailed briefing of how the algorithm works.
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Instagram on Wednesday gave a detailed look at the algorithm that powers its feed. In 2016, the firm introduced algorithmic software to its feed that decides how the app will sort posts
INSTAGRAM’S CHRONOLOGICAL VS. ALGORITHMIC FEED: BY THE NUMBERS
Users have repeatedly begged for Instagram to bring back its chronological feed, which was replaced in 2016 with algorithmic software.
However, Instagram says the algorithmic feed has actually led to more users being satisfied with the app:
Instagram says it uses three factors to determine how it organizes posts on your feed: Interest, recency and relationships.
The firm determines how much you’ll be interested in a post based on your past behavior on the app, which often pushes those posts to the top of your feed.
Recency involves how new a post is, while relationships centers on how close you are to the person who published a post.
The more a user likes or comments on another person’s post, the more likely it will appear first on your feed.
Aside from that, Instagram says the algorithm also takes into account how frequently you use the app each day or week, how many accounts you follow and your usage of the app, i.e. how often you’re scrolling to the end of your feed, or just seeing the newest posts.
By doing this, Instagram is ensuring that you see more posts from the people you care about and that your posts are seen regardless of when you share them.
Instagram uses three factors to determine how posts show up on your feed: Interest, recency and relationships. These ‘signals’ are primarily influenced by your past activity on the app
Instagram Product Designer Christina d’Avignon gave a specific example of how the algorithm works: If you go to bed and your friend posts overnight that she got engaged, the algorithm makes sure that the post isn’t buried by the time you open the app the next morning.
‘We wanted to make sure you weren’t missing those important moments and that those would resurface to the top of your feed when you open the app,’ d’Avignon explained.
From a more technical standpoint, the algorithm uses machine learning, a technology that studies historical data and other information to make predictions.
This way, the algorithm gets smarter over time and, in particular, the more you use Instagram, the more personalized your feed will get.
Stories also use particular signals to determine ranking, however, Instagram didn’t delve into the specifics.
Users shouldn’t get their hopes up for the return of the chronological feed, either.
For now, Julian Gutman, product lead for the Instagram feed, said the firm doesn’t plan on giving users the option to choose between an algorithmic or chronological feed because it would make the app too confusing.
From a more technical standpoint, the algorithm uses machine learning, a technology that studies historical data and other information to make predictions on what you see on the app
Instagram also cleared up some of the most common misconceptions about the feed, saying it doesn’t hide posts, or favor photos or videos over specific types of content on your feed.
The firm also doesn’t ‘downrank’ users who spam the app with posts; instead, users who post more than five posts in a row might find their posts dispersed throughout the feed from time to time.
One of the most popular gripes voiced by users is that they repeatedly see old posts in their feed.
Instagram addressed this head on, saying that while it prefers users see newer posts first, old content may show up first because the algorithm infers that it may be important to the user.
In other cases, heavy Instagram users may simply reach the end of their feed, so the app will generate older posts automatically, Gutman said.
Instagram often takes users frustrations into consideration or as the basis for design changes and product launches on the app.
Many users complained that when they would browse through the app, it would suddenly send them to the top so that they’d lose their place in the feed, disrupting their experience in the process.
Instagram’s Mute tool was developed by studying user behavior, as it realized there are ‘certain social pressures’ to follow a user and that unfollowing may not always be the best option
WHEN DID INSTAGRAM’S CHRONOLOGICAL FEED DISAPPEAR?
In 2016, Instagram introduced an algorithm-based timeline to replace chronological posts.
And users weren’t happy. The move spurred a petition for its reversal, and the hashtag #RIPInstagram trended.
When Instagram announced it would abandon its timeline approach, it said: ‘People miss on average 70 percent of their feeds.’
To avoid this, the app implemented a new approach that would change the order based on a persons relationships and interests.
As users have grown increasingly frustrated with apps like Instagram and Snapchat, they’ve also considered turning to alternative social media platforms such as Ello and Vero, which promise to put the user experience first above algorithms
‘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.’
Public opinion turned against the picture-sharing app as users demanded the company reverse the change.
In just days following the announcement, a petition titled Keep Instagram Chronological was born, and it gathered 158,298 supporters in 72 hours.
As users have grown increasingly frustrated with apps like Instagram and Snapchat, they’ve also considered turning to alternative social media platforms such as Ello and Vero, which promise to put the user experience first above algorithms.
The firm listened to users and chose to design a ‘new posts’ button to get rid of the disruption problem. The button has yet to arrive on the app, but is expected to launch soon.
Instagram’s new Mute button was also developed based on looking at user behavior, as the firm recognized there are ‘certain social pressures’ to follow someone and that unfollowing isn’t always the best option.
The button allows users to stop seeing posts from certain accounts, instead of unfollowing them completely.
Instagram also stopped short of giving any hints about any new features that could be coming to the app down the road.
The firm says it will continue to look at how people are using the app to provide the best experience.
‘A lot of what we do is grounded in understanding how people use the app, what challenges people are facing and what features we can build to solve that,’ Gutman explained.
‘Some of the things like giving people more control or helping them get through different content in different ways is one of the things we think about a lot.’