Yesterday Instagram announced a pretty significant shift of how it presents content to its users: the feed will soon be sorted algorithmically instead of chronologically.
First things first: I've been using Instagram since late 2012 and quite like it. I've found it to be a great experience with a neatly trimmed feed consisting of accounts posting things I actually care about, and not just people I happen to know. This is is similar to my current Twitter experience, and the complete opposite of Facebook. I spend far more time on Instagram than on Twitter, and Facebook is barely a blip on the radar. I don't even have its iOS app installed.
This wasn't always the case. Back in the fall of 2004 I joined Facebook as a college freshman, part of the first wave of post-Harvard users, when one needed a valid
@somespecialuniversity.edu address. I joined Twitter three years later, and Instagram another five after that. Facebook was my favorite and the one I used the most for nearly the entire time since, but in the last few years it's lost much of its appeal.
At the time of writing, my score is as follows:
- 708 friends
- nearly all people I actually know
- visited once or twice per week
- almost no posting
- 184 following, 197 followers
- majority overlap, but split between people I actually know, people I don't know, and companies/projects/etc.
- visited nearly every day
- occasional tweeting
- 306 following, 287 followers
- majority overlap, mostly accounts posting automotive content, some people I actually know
- visited several times each day
- frequent posting
While the numbers may look like a landslide victory for Facebook, the reality is that I almost never use it. Its Messenger and events are the only reasons I even have an account. Why? Well, it's kinda' crap. Let's dig a little deeper.
At first I used it to connect to my classmates. We were all new to college and most of us didn't know anyone, and we needed a way to expand the pool of people who may lend us notes when we
skipped missed class. All these new friends had a neat box into which they could go!
After some time, we were allowed to add users from another colleges, which was a nice way to reconnect with friends from high school, et al. Later came users with no specific affiliations, and it became a complete free-for-all.
At this point, with practically everyone on Facebook, there was a certain usefulness to it as a communication platform. Past posting about life achievements and politics, users could send each other messages. Unlike email addresses, people's Facebook profiles were often fairly easy to find. This allowed me to find a buttload of people I grew up with in Bosnia and catch up with some of them.
However, after all this time, I've found that I don't actually want the non-messaging parts of Facebook. My feed is full of politics, religion, and pointless videos shared ad nauseam. With time being my most precious resource, I really don't have any use for all that drivel.
The worst part is that Facebook inflicted this disinterest of mine on itself. Based on my actions, it's decided that that's what I'm most likely to want to see on my feed. Seriously? I mean, seriously? Back when my feed was merely chronological, it was so much more fun to observe and see posts by a variety of people. Now it's just the same ten or so over and over again.
Instagram, on the other hand, has always been reliably chronological. It's been rather nice always being able to keep up with everything if I just scroll down (for days with 306 accounts followed, but that's beside the point). The lack of algorithmic curation combined with the lack of pressure to follow anyone for any reason other than wanting to see their posts has made it a lovely source of entertainment, and one of my favorite features has been that very lack of bias involved. All posts available wherever they may fall in the timeline, nothing to artificially push them down.
I really hope the Instagram team reverts this change. Allowing users to disable it is probably the best I can hope for, though. I suppose that'll let me stick to my own grumpy ways, but it's not exactly ideal.
Ah well. Walled gardens and all that...