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What's Going on with the IG Algorithm?

If you’ve been confused by what’s showing up on your Instagram feed lately, you’re certainly not alone! These days, the algorithm that decides what users see in the app is much more complex than Instagram’s earliest chronological order feed, when it was a place full of friends’ heavily filtered cat pictures. Let’s take a look at the most recent algorithmic changes, and what the future could hold for the app.

The History of the Algorithm

From Instagram’s launch in 2010 until its big algorithm shift around 2016, its main feed was based on a system where the newest posts from people you follow would appear at the top of your feed. When Instagram introduced a more sophisticated ranking system for posts, in addition to a series of updates and added features, it left users a bit puzzled.

The Current State of the Algorithm

Although we typically refer to it as “The Algorithm”, Instagram’s system is actually made up of a combination of algorithms and processes that work together to create each user’s unique experience. Over the past few years, Instagram has consistently been pivoting towards a model that is based around users’ interests. Essentially, the more things in a certain niche a user likes, the more Instagram serves them that type of content. (Instagram, 2022)

As part of their effort to drive more engagement, Instagram has been making a steady shift towards promoting video content. Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, explained in an Instagram Reel that this is due to the shift in users both posting and engaging with more video content on the app. While photos have always been a priority, their hope is to catch up with other apps (like the rapidly growing and widely popular TikTok) in the video space.

Criticisms of the Algorithm

In addition to the reordering of the feed, Instagram also introduced engagement-based recommendations to users’ main feeds. Their base did not respond well, with many unhappy with seeing “random” things being promoted to them (Inc., 2022). If you’ve liked posts of pasta dishes from your favorite foodie influencers, then Instagram is prepared to make your feed look like an Italian restaurant menu. 

Mosseri detailed that overall, the way that people share posts with friends has changed, moving mainly from feeds over to stories and DMs. With this in mind Instagram sees the feed portion of the app becoming more public, meaning that it will include a variety of recommended posts on top of content from users that you follow (Platformer, 2022).

Following the Algorithm

With Instagram’s push to compete with other video-sharing apps, using video content to reach a wider audience looks like a great path to explore on the app. As they continue to promote videos through Reels, users are more likely to interact with those kinds of posts, and as users interact more with a certain type of content it will be recommended to them even more.

When asked about the main feed’s changes in an interview, Mosseri explained “I think what is happening is people think of us as a feed app, because we started as a feed app. When we launched Instagram, there were no stories, there were no DMs. What’s happened over the last decade is that how people share with friends has changed.” 

Many users spoke out about their dissatisfaction, with demands to “Make Instagram Instagram Again” trending across the internet. Even Kylie Jenner, one of Instagram’s most-followed people, contributed significantly to the movement’s virality by posting the image that calls on the app to “stop trying to be TikTok” on her story. Instagram was soon packed with posts about this surprisingly passionate sentiment, resulting in the launch of a petition that declares the need for returning to an app with more photos from friends, and less recycled TikTok vibes. 

Although Instagram has been met with some high-profile criticism following these algorithmic updates, they have listened to their audience’s concerns, and are using this to keep making improvements. Taking the responses to new feed designs into account, like the fullscreen display of photos and videos, they are rethinking some of these new features as the app continues to evolve. (Inc., 2022) 

When it comes to Instagram, we know they’re never going to stop making changes to boost engagement. And for the foreseeable future, we know video is going to be a priority. What are you doing to optimize for video on Instagram?

Written by Megan Burke with Illustration by Greg Markman