Instagram Tests Algorithm-Based Feeds

The Usual Order Gets a Predictive Intelligence Upgrade

Last week Instagram announced that it plans to begin testing an algorithm-based personalized feed for users. For the most part, users have become accustomed to viewing social feeds from their contacts in the order posted, with the most-recent updates showing up at the top. A last-in-first-out approach treats all contacts and content as equal.

With its recent announcement, Instagram expects to move away from the classic reverse-chronological order, using its software to select which photos users would like to see toward the top of the feed, irrespective of the post’s date.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom estimates that the average user misses 70 percent of posts in their Instagram feed. It’s a hangover from the early days of the Web, when AOL, Yahoo and their commentaries were major destinations on the information superhighway and they served up limited content. But to help today’s audiences sift through current levels of online information, predictive analytics and hardware are enabling the creation of the smart feed.

Social media has ushered in the era of the feed, a simple way to gather and display content from user’s contacts; feeds are now evolving along with their size. As feed-based networks have grown dominant over the past decade, there’s a clear need for constant reinvention to keep audiences interested and involved. Relevant, personalized feeds are becoming even more relevant given the potential for new competition for young users.

In 2009, Facebook adjusted its news feeds to one based on the popularity of posts. More recently, Twitter began to place popular and older tweets at the top of users’ feeds. Both Facebook and Twitter initially received negative feedback from users when they announced these changes. Instagram’s changes can be expected to cause short-term discontent from people accustomed to the current reverse-chronological placement of posts. Instagram intends to warm up its audience by testing the changes on small groups of users before the changes are rolled out more fully.

The changes could give Instagram the power to generate more revenue from content. Over the past few years, thousands of brands have joined Instagram. If they work to make their postings more liked, and therefore more likely to stay at the top of feeds, could not only improve the user experience but also strengthen Instagram’s bottom line. By doing much of the work for the user, Instagram could entice them to stay longer on its site.