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Hey, Instagram! Please stop ruining my feed with your algorithm

A while back, I noticed that people on Instagram that I follow didn't seem to be posting anymore. Celebrities that I like to look at pictures of just disappeared from my feed. People I follow to see cool photos of my favorite places just weren't posting anymore. Or so I thought.

It turns out it was a new algorithm set in place by Instagram. This algorithm tries to predict which feeds are most important to you based on such things as how often you like a user's photos, whether you comment on a photo, if you share a post with others, and if you search directly for a particular user or company. Supposedly, this helps fill up the top of your feed with content that is most relevant to you.

Guess what. It doesn't.

Instagram is doing it wrong

My brother posts a few pictures every month; many of them are of cars. I'm not the least bit interested in the Ford F-150, so I don't hit the like button on his posts very often. He does, however, also post pictures of his family — my nephew. I may not always comment, but I always want to see pictures of my brother and his family on trips, at soccer games, or grabbing some ice cream.

I don't ever see my brother's pictures anymore. Ever. You know what I do see? I see pictures of someone I vaguely know from around town. She recently had a baby, so I liked and commented on a bunch of her posts. I don't see her in person very often, so I wanted to show my congratulations and welcome the new member of her family. I see all of her posts, even the ones she puts up of some retro t-shirt she found at a thrift store.

Instagram's algorithm decided that, because I don't like or comment on most of my brother's photos (he only posts about four pictures in any given month), his feed isn't important to me.

Instagram's algorithm also decided that, because I liked and commented on about a dozen photos from someone I barely know within a very short period of time, I clearly think this person is very important and should see every single post she makes, even if it dates back two weeks. (Note: I also now see a lot of pictures of babies, more than I ever did before. How is this important to me?)

This is just one example of how the Instagram algorithm just doesn't work. I also never see posts from celebrities or companies I follow. I don't hit the like button for celebrities and companies because I don't see the point. I'm not trying to make a personal connection with them, and they usually have about 25K likes and thousands of comments anyway. Mine wouldn't even be noticed.

So no likes or comments, according to the algorithm, means I don't care about the user. If I didn't care, I wouldn't have followed them in the first place.

It's too much work

Based on suggestions I've read (which, by the way, are all written for users trying to be seen, not users just trying to see), I'm supposed to like, comment, search for, and share posts from users I want to make sure stay at the top of my feed. It also means I have to log in multiple times per day to make sure I'm always keeping up with my interactions. That's just too much work. I like to grab a cup of coffee, sit on the porch, and scroll through my feed, looking at pictures that my friends and family posted that day. I don't want to race through every single picture ever posted from anyone important to me in an effort to like and comment just so I can keep them in my feed.

My pleasant experience of catching up with people thanks to the visual diary that Instagram can provide was replaced with a handful of people that post a dozen pictures per day, drowning out anything important that might have popped up from someone I don't interact with very often. If I missed the chance to like their post, I'm never going to get to see anything else they share again.

The timing is never right

Chronology has been completely thrown out the window on Instagram. Sure, you'll see the most recent picture posted by someone the algorithm deems important to you in your feed first. But then you'll see the next seven pictures from that same person, across the past two weeks, before you'll see pictures someone posted 4 hours ago that the algorithm considered "less important."

It's creepy. It's as if I'm stalking someone. I say this because that's how it feels when I see that the same person has liked all of my photos from the past two weeks in one sitting. I think, "Is this person going directly to my feed and liking everything I posted? Because that's creepy." Turns out, it's just that stupid algorithm messing up the general chronology so my last four posts end up at the top of someone's feed, even if they have closer IRL friends that put up pictures earlier that day.

How is Instagram giving me a better experience by hiding my real life friends from me and bombarding me with pictures from strangers that were posted weeks ago?

Just give me the option

I know Instagram did a lot of research and development to come up with this algorithm, and I know that the company is trying to reduce falsely popular accounts from gaining traction. With a little more time and a little more tweaking, they might succeed in clearing out the riffraff. I, however, don't want to have to be subject to this ridiculous and meaningless filtering process so that some legitimate companies get a leg up against fake competition. It's not my problem.

Give me the option to turn off the algorithm and just view my feed chronologically with no filters. I want to see the random pictures my brother posts every once in a while and the dozens of baby pictures that casual acquaintances posts. I want to see everything that Disney puts up and the selfies that John Boyega sneaks in. Let me be the one to decide which Instagram users are most important to me because clearly, your algorithm is doing it wrong.

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

37 Comments
  • I applaud this article! Yes, very irritating and those sponsored posts are annoying as well.
  • Why are sponsored posts so bad? They’re one every ten or so posts and you can quickly flick past them. We’re getting this service for free and they’re collecting much less info about us than FB or Twitter, where they’re seeing what news I’m reading.
  • I completely agree. I especially "love" seeing the posts about events that happened days ago. Chronological order made perfect sense, and I still re-organize my FB feed to most recent, every time I use it.
  • I absolutely agree!
  • Yes. Indeed. The new Instagram is clumsy, difficult to navigate.
  • Was there ever any doubt that they would ruin it?
  • I couldn't agree more. I have just stopped using their service. I would like to see chronological order be at least an option, and I would go one step further. I used to quickly scroll down to my last seen post and then go up from there, but why can't there be the option to start on your last seen post. Then you don't miss anything, and you see things in the order they happen. This is especially humorous for sports where maybe you see a great catch from the 3rd inning, then the opening pitch, then the final score, and finally a home run from the 7th inning. What is the point? It's just chaos now.
  • Twitter has a good balance of this. It will start you where you left off, but if too many posts have happened since your last login it gives you a "see more" button in between your last seen posts and the most recent posts.
  • The algorithmic approach to instagram is exactly the reason why I stopped using it.
    They removed their value from the product so now it's not used.
  • Their approach is perfect for their customer. The problem for their users is their users are under the mistaken impression that they're the customers. They aren't. Instagram users are data sources for their customers. Once you grok that, the changes make perfect sense.
  • 100% agree with this. That thought process, along with a number of idiots, drove me from Facebook and now I find I don't look at Instagram any more for the exact same reasons.
    I want to know how my nieces are doing, not what someone down the street had for lunch...
  • It drove you from Facebook to Facebook. Instagram has been heading downhill ever since Facebook bought 'em.
  • I completely agree! Just please give us the option to view our feeds chronologically!
  • FIrst, I 100% agree that Instagram/Facebook should just let us set it to Chronological order and be done with it. That said, I can't find any evidence that I have missed a post from someone I have followed. Yes, the order is all screwed up. But if I open the app and scroll down until I get to the last pics I saw, none seem to be missing. I've been spot checking this every now and then since the algorithm changed, and so far I can't find a single instance where someone posted something that never appeared in my feed. Now, I only follow about 270 people, not all of which are active posters and few are celebrities. But many of them I have never liked or commented on a single photo. I just went through the list and clicked on any that I didn't recall seeing recently and everyone of them I recognized the last photo posted. I'm curious how many people the author follows and if they are scrolling their feed all the way down to the last viewed picture.
  • Thanks for your comment. Your experience is significantly different than mine. I follow 139 people. I just did a quick count of my feed and noted that pictures from celebrities that I have never "liked" a picture for are not in the most recent 100 posts, even though those celebrities posted photos less than 24-hours ago.
  • Is there anything that we, as users, can do other than quit using it? How can we let them know how dissatisfied we are?
  • This algorithm that you speak of is the reason I stopped using Facebook. And yes, I know Facebook purchased Instagram. And yes, I will probably stop using Instagram too.
  • I hate that. When I like a pic I thought was just recently posted but ends up being from days ago because of the stupid way it shows posts. Give us a choice if nothing else.
  • COMPLETELY AGREE! I don't know why they think I need anyone else deciding what I need to see. I want to see everything, in ORDER. I may stop using Instagram AGAIN because of this mess. I feel the same about facbook too. I just want to see everything in chronological order. I do NOT want to see the same post pop to the to every time someone comments on it or likes it.
  • Please post this on Medium so I can give it LOTS of claps.
  • The "algorithm" is not designed so you see what you are more interested in. It's this way so it can generate more ad revenues for Facebook. By randomizing the feed (what's it's essentially doing), you are forced to keep scrolling so you can see all the posts and thus also keep seeing more ads. Ads now make up 20% of the feed on average!
  • Thank you for the post. I hated the algorithm then and I hate it still.
  • You can turn notifications for accounts important to you on. That's probably only way how to know that those accounts posted something. I know it's not solution, but a small workaround that could help.
  • It's not a good work around if you follow more than a few people. If you turn notifications on for everyone you follow, your phone will keep flashing or dinging with notices every time someone posts. It gets really annoying so I've turned most of them off.
    And I also agree about getting rid of this algorithm. I find posts that I need to know about right away are not coming in for hours or even days later. It's become almost useless and the ads! Constant and silly and annoying.
  • We should all give them 1 star ratings until the change it back. A massive 1 star avalanche should do the job.
  • My thoughts exactly!
  • You are so right about that algorithm, it seems like everything is telling you want to see and how you see it. I wanted to delete the app when it first started it leads to me using the application a lot less. Turning on notifications don't fix it either you just get annoying notifications whenever they post. I hope they fix it or at least give me the option.
  • Social networks are a time suck.
  • Well, you can tell who owns Instagram. Stop trying to make it like FB!!!
  • if i scroll enough it ends up back at the last load of stuff and a quick search through my followers didn't find anything not on my feed
  • agreed
  • At least Twitter lets you change back to chronological from settings. This is frustrating end user hostile, Instagram
  • Amen to this post.
  • Instagram now has the same problem as Facebook (no surprise there) and Twitter. They're optimizing it for the collection of data to sell to marketers and/or to place ads directly in your feed. Social has ruined social.
  • Oh...this is why it looks like I'm not seeing any new post. Thanks
  • The problem with chronological order is that there are posts I’ll never see when I wake up and my Insta-friends on the other side of the world posted 7 hours ago. Someone else commented about using notifications, which is a pretty good solution.
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