Changes to Instagram’s algorithm will present photos out of chronological order. But users should not rush to change their preferences just yet.
Forthcoming changes to Instagram’s algorithm, which will present photos out of chronological order, have thrown the photo-sharing app into chaos, with users asking their followers to “turn on notifications” so their updates aren’t lost to the new regime.
Don’t do it. For your sake. Not yet, anyway.
Turning on notifications for Rihanna, for example, means you’ll be told every time she posts a new photo. It is the equivalent of Rihanna texting you to tell you that she’s put a pic up on Instagram, but without the close relationship with Rihanna implicit in that scenario.
Sometimes Rihanna posts several images a day. You’d receive a text to let you know, every time. Annoying, right? Even in the case of Rihanna, arguably the only person worth following on Instagram.
Don’t turn on notifications. Your phone is already buzzing and bleeping and wishing you “a nice day” and asking if you’ve “been affected by the explosion” (?!) – you don’t need to be personally notified every time that person you don’t know posts a picture of a meal you didn’t order or a sunset you didn’t see or a coffee you really, really need right now because you just got told @badgalriri’s posted another photo to Instagram.
(To clarify: in accordance with her “dgaf” public persona, Rihanna has not asked her 36.1 million followers to turn on notifications (Ellie Goulding has).)
In short, don’t turn on notifications. And definitely don’t for everyone who asks you to. The only person you should turn on notifications for is your crush, and if you’re smart you’d have done that ages ago.
We don’t know the specifics of how Instagram’s timeline is changing. The spate of posts hashtagged #InstagramChangesover the past 24 hours seems to have been sparked by one unknown “influencer”, who spurred others to follow suit like lemmings off a cliff, panicked by a change confirmed by the platform on 15 March.
In its infinite wisdom, Instagram has decided that ordering posts from newest to oldest means you are probably missing out on “the posts you might care about the most”. It neglected to expand on what posts it thought you might care about the most but said “you may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70% of their feeds”.
It signalled that photos and videos would “soon” be ordered “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post”.
“If your favorite musician shares a video from last night’s concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in. And when your best friend posts a photo of her new puppy , you won’t miss it.”
Instagram’s statement clarified that the change would affect the ordering of posts, not whether they appeared at all: “All the posts will still be there, just in a different order” – though it did preface that with “as we begin”, the obvious inference being that it’s only getting started.
Facebook, which bought the photo-sharing app for US $1bn in 2012, introduced a similar change to its news feed in 2014 – now there is no way to consistently view it in reverse chronological order. Its users complained then, too.
MTV, assumedly speaking on behalf of youth, complained that Instagram “used to be the great equalizer: The quality of your photos and your photos alone would either lead you to Insta-fame or cast you into the deep blue sea of Insta-nothingness. But, like Facebook, Instagram believes that robots hold the answer to our happiness.”
The timeframe Instagram gave for this “new experience” was “the coming months”.
“We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way.”
An Instagram spokesman told Guardian Australia there were still “weeks, if not months, of testing” to go before the feature is rolled out beyond a small test group.
“We’ll certainly confirm things when the changes are made,” he said.
But going by users’ myriad pleas for notifications to be enabled on Monday, something must have spooked them. With the platform thrown into disarray, the company attempted to calm the community on Twitter.
It’s easy to see why the brands and personalities for whom Instagram is their primary platform are concerned – it’s a site of significant commerce, with individual influencers asking hundreds, even thousands of dollars to promote products on their pages, depending on their following.
Changes to the algorithm, such as that confirmed by the platform on 15 March, affect how many people they can guarantee their posts are reaching, which could affect how much money they can ask advertisers for.
Until the extent of the changes become apparent, for the majority of the platform’s 300m users, it’s another one of those irritating reminders that the places where we work, play, communicate and otherwise while away our time online are subject to the whims of teams working in “user experience”, which may or may not have our best interests at heart.
It’s annoying, yes – but it is almost certainly not as annoying as receiving notifications.