Ever wondered why you keep consistently missing out on many of your friends posts on Instagram or why you experience a sense of déjà vu each time you scroll down the app. The answer lies in a strategy shift in 2016. Back then the platform had an estimated 500 million users. In five years that number has tripled; India along with the US is the largest market for the platform with an estimated 140 million users. 

Instagram
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Insta to go chronological: 

If you recollect using Instagram in 2016 (yes, that’s ages ago), you might remember that posts on your feed were in chronological order. Instagram head Adam Mosseri appeared before a Senate committee hearing this week in the backdrop of discussions around the app’s impact on the mental health of younger users. Mosseri confirmed that the company is working on a version of its feed that will sequence posts chronologically. This will mark a shift from its current ranking algorithm that displays posts based on user preferences. 

Instagram
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A shift from the Facebook style feed: 

In 2016 Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom justified the move to a more personalised, algorithm-driven feed based on what users are most interested in. The feed was reminiscent of Facebook’s feed; Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012. He told the New York Times that most people miss an average of 70% of the posts on their feed and the move would make sure that Instagram users would see the best 30% possible. Instagram leaned heavily on machine learning as well as relationships between posts and users – in theory people you interact with more tended to appear more frequently on your feed.

The company took this one step further in 2017 when it added ‘recommended posts’ to your feed. This included posts that your friends interacted with or posts picked by the company’s algorithm. That didn’t go down well with a growing number of Insta users even though the company has maintained that these posts only show up after you’ve seen posts from the people that you follow.

Instagram
Picture Credit: Jacob Owens

Change of gears?

Instagram has consistently maintained that the algorithmically sorted feed is popular with users although large sections of users across the world continue to disagree.  That hasn’t stopped rapid growth of the platform. In early 2020 Bloomberg reported that 25% of Facebook (now Meta) revenues came from Instagram, that number is estimated to have crossed the 35% threshold. Adam Mosseri acknowledged the requirements for updated regulations that would keep people safe online and also the need for more parental controls on Instagram. The senate hearings this week come close on the heels of a 60-minutes interview with Facebook whistle-blower and former employee Frances Haugen. She asserted that Facebook’s hunger for profit went far beyond feeding children harmful content like that related to eating disorders. 

Instagram
Picture Credit: Georgia De Lotz

The chronological feed looks all set for a comeback. Adam Mosseri confirmed that Instagram will roll this out in Q1 2022 and that they have already been working on the feature for the past few months.