I’m always up for trying new things, so I signed up for your app way back in October 2010. Things have changed a lot since then! I love the way you’ve added lots of features to your original photo-sharing app, including stories, videos, geotagging, and bookmarking. But most of all, I love being able to open up an ever-changing stream of pictures that shows me what my friends are doing around the world, and inspires me with interesting photos taken by people I have never met. There’s just one problem: I can’t actually do that any more, because of your algorithm. It sucks.
Instead of being shown everyone’s posts in reverse-chronological order, I see just the pictures that your algorithm decides to show me, in the order it decides to show them. I can still check in with my friends, sort of. The trouble is that I only ever see the same three friends’ posts, over and over again. The algorithm favours people I interact with the most, it seems, and banishes everyone else to obscurity. Where have they gone? What have you done with them?
I can’t use your app for inspiration any more, either. It’s interesting to follow photographers I don’t know in person, but that means I don’t necessarily interact with them very much. So I rarely, if ever, get shown their posts. There used to be a wonderful sense of serendipity in being able to open the app and see pictures from unexpected people and places. But not any more. Unless it’s someone whose images I consistently “like”, they too are banished to cyber-Siberia. So I’m never shown anything challenging, because if I don’t like it consistently, it vanishes from my feed.
I have tried to change things up. I’ve tried logging on multiple times during a day to see if that meant I saw a greater variety of images—but I’m just shown the same ones. I’ve tried starting a private account and following a smaller number of more carefully selected people—but once again I’m only shown posts from a tiny minority. I miss the way things used to be. I realise that you are trying to maximise “engagement” (and advertising revenue), but the result is an app that is much less useful, less engaging, and less inspiring than it was in the past. It’s a pity, because I have such fond memories of the way things used to be when I used to be excited to see what others had posted.
Would it be too much to ask to turn off the algorithm and bring back the reverse-chronological feed? It could be an obscure switch, buried in the settings, that hardly anyone would notice, so it wouldn’t affect your advertising revenue too much. Or how about this: you could make it a paid extra, so that you could make up any decline in advertising revenue through direct payments from users. Also, you may have noticed that there is a bit of a backlash going on against algorithmic feeds at the moment, on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, because they promote misinformation, trolls, and bots. Here’s your chance to get ahead of the backlash. Turn off the algorithm! #noalgo! Let users Take Back Control! Or, to paraphrase another popular political slogan, Make Instagram Useful Again!