Nothing good can stay. If you like Facebook as it is now, we won’t hold it against you, but for our part, we still have fond memories of the time when Facebook was just about seeing what our friends were up to. The changes were subtle. Over time, Facebook created the news feed, made it easy for brands to create their own pages, and introduced ads. The most momentous change? Instead of seeing posts chronologically, Facebook created the all-seeing, all-powerful algorithm — the inscrutable machine that decides what you see and what you don’t. No longer would posts appear chronologically, leading to many of us realizing that we were seeing more of ads and brands and less of what our friends were up to.
So it goes when an internet-based company needs to start making lots of money. Well, Instagram has been a part of Facebook for a while, and now it’s slowly sliding down that same slope. Instagram is about to make a big change at the start of the new year, adding recommended posts from accounts you don’t already follow in your feed. It’s going to be a big change, so we’re going to break down what it might mean for you.
This week, Instagram will begin to push the update out to users. Once the app has been updated, you’ll start to see those recommended posts from accounts you don’t follow as you scroll through your feed. But, it won’t be as bad as what Facebook does (at least not yet). Recommended posts will be confined to their own section, which will have a cluster of three to five suggested posts. That section supposedly will only appear after you’ve scrolled through all of the posts of the people you follow, but we’re not sure how that’s going to work — because Instagram has moved away from a chronological timeline to the dreaded algorithm, we often don’t see a lot of new posts from friends as it is.
We actually love the idea of being able to find cool new accounts to follow. With the millions of accounts active, there’s always going to be one or two pleasant surprises out there. The problem is that we could already do that — there was the Search tab! We could scroll through that if we wanted to find new accounts. Now, Instagram is displacing valuable feed space — space that’s already been invaded by ads — to show us those accounts. We won’t have a choice, either. Instagram says you can temporarily hide the recommendations box by hiding it, but it’ll come back on its own after some time.
So, in theory we’re cool with the Search tab in Instagram. We’d love to find new stuff we like! Thing is, that all-seeing algorithm is not that great! We like to see cool new fan artists or updates on the shows we like. Instead, up top I’m seeing…a man’s underwear showing while he tries to put a star on top of a Christmas tree? I don’t want to see that! Why is that there?
Our crime is probably not liking or engaging with enough posts. And that’s the thing — if you’re content to be a passive user of Instagram who looks at what they like and then moves on, the app won’t work well for you. In fact, it’ll be pretty bad, because the algorithm can be pretty off even if you do a lot of liking and commenting! A predictive algorithm that isn’t good at predicting, combined with a new box in our feed full of those sometimes OK, sometimes bad predictions, isn’t something that sounds like it was done to make the user experience better. We just wish we had the choice to tailor Instagram to our tastes, but it doesn’t look like anyone is moving in that direction — with Snapchat, for now, being the one notable exception.