Instagram Needs Lists

It’s time to separate our IRL friends from our celebrity crushes.

Photo illustration by Derreck Johnson. Images via sidewaysdesign/iStock; Masahiro Tsurugi/iStock.

For a lot of us, Instagram is there to prove that celebrities aren’t so different after all. They too take mirror selfies of their OOTDs. They too share photos of brunch tables that look haphazardly set but are actually entirely staged. And when we follow a celebrity’s feed, their ’grams are seamlessly shuffled in with the posts of our friends, making “them” feel a little bit more like “us.” I am not convinced this is a good thing. Do you really want to see a photo of a vacationing former Disney Channel star right after seeing a photo of your college roommate’s kittens? While all these years later, Instagram’s chief virtue may still be its simplicity, its users now cram many different Instagram uses into one crowded feed. What the social network and app needs is lists, like the ones Twitter allows its users to make. Specifically—for my purposes, anyway—it needs lists to separate the celebrities I follow from all the normals in my life.

When I first installed Instagram, I had a strict rule: Only follow people I know. As more celebrities joined the platform, I dug in my heels, refusing to mix up my personal feed with photos from people I would never meet. With about 10 exceptions, every account I follow either belongs to a friend or is a project-based account, like a podcast, involving one of my friends. But a look at my Discover tab or my search history offers a different picture: I’m actually just as celebrity-obsessed as the next person. I actively seek out the pages of famous people, almost obsessively checking the pages of my luminary crushes du jour. Some pages I check multiple times a day just to make sure I don’t miss one of their Stories before it disappears. I just don’t follow them. But if I had a separate celebrity feed, I would.

Instagram lists would solve this problem and similar ones, and the platform already has some of the necessary parts in place to make lists happen. Take the search function, which offers an imperfect patch. If you look for a username, it may pop up as a recent search. If you obsessively check, say, Elizabeth Chambers Hammer’s Instagram three times a day (guilty!), she might just appear as a suggested page so you don’t have to waste time typing in her name. But if you stop checking a page for a length of time, or check more pages than the recent search list can hold, that page falls away. The Save for Later button also partially functions like a list, but you can only save specific posts, and that still requires the active checking of pages. For me, having a way to separate the people I know from the stars I want to follow would ease the small bit of FOMO I experience when I manually check in on a page that isn’t in my feed and worry that I missed someone’s Story.

It’s true that adding lists could make Instagram’s mobile-centric interface a bit clunkier, but it’s worth it. It would be a partial tonic to Instagram’s increasingly aggressive ranking algorithm, which shows users some photos out of chronological order based on engagement metrics, meaning we likely end up missing some. No longer will a three-day-old post of Kendall Jenner on a yacht supplant photos of your friend’s art show from last night. Instead, you could have both.

That’s because these are different use cases requiring different feeds, especially now that consuming Instagram is one of the most important ways we consume celebrity culture. If you’re quickly walking from your desk to the bathroom, you might pop into your friend feed to see how people are spending their days; later in that night, after your friends have stopped ’gramming for the day, maybe you’ll check out your celeb list to see how the cast from Riverdale spent their afternoon. Lists would allow people to clarify the currently tangled ways they use the platform.

Right now, Instagram is testing a “closest friend” feature that allows you to add friends to a group that is separate from your feed. This is close to a separate feed but not quite. Reports show it functions mostly like a group chat but for ’gramming. (The accounts you follow appear in a list, but you can’t see their posts in a feed.) It does look like accounts aren’t notified when you add them to this list, so you could add stars to your closest friend group without them knowing. While this solution is imperfect, at least when you want to say Beyoncé’s one of your closest friends, you won’t be entirely lying.