Instagram announced Tuesday that, like Facebook and Twitter before it, it will be changing from a chronological to an algorithmic ordering of posts. It was probably inevitable once Facebook acquired the company; no company has spent more time or effort on mastering the dark art of optimizing user engagement. The news came in a post on the company’s blog promising to let users “See the Moments You Care About First,” an instant classic of the fast-growing dystopian “articulate a problem that doesn’t exist then solve it” genre:
You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.
To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.
Seventy percent! If there’s one thing Internet users love, it’s changes to websites they rely on, so company founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom spoke to the New York Times to still the waters. The change will be rolled out to fewer than 10 percent of users initially but eventually will be systemwide. Systrom told the Times, “We take big change slowly and deliberately and bring the community along with us. It’s not like people will wake up tomorrow and have a different Instagram.”
A different Instagram might not even be a bad thing—or at least it stands a good chance of being a tolerable one. Facebook and Twitter both faced user revolts when their algorithms were announced but so far have suffered no long-term fallout. (In Twitter’s case, Max Read makes a pretty good case on New York’s Following blog that an algorithmic timeline will eventually improve the experience.) Using the #RIPInstagram hashtag, users have already started complaining about the new Instagram on Twitter, where apparently Twitter’s own betrayal of the chronological timeline is a distant memory—or at least pushed way down to the bottom of users’ feeds. So you might not wake up to a different Instagram tomorrow. But as AT&T tried to warn us nearly a quarter-century ago, sooner or later, you will.