Instagram on iPhone

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.