Two features Instagram needs to fix its algorithmic timeline

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It’s been said, many times, but it’s worth repeating: Instagram’s algorithmic timeline is a steaming pile of nonsense.

The photo-focused social network replaced its chronological feed with an algorithmic one back in 2016, meaning the content you see is ranked according to the likelihood you’ll “care about it.” What this feature denies is the ability for you to select what you actually care about and see it at a glance.

This “algorithm knows best” approach is common in online services many of us use every day, including Facebook, which owns Instagram. There’s no particular reason to examine this now, except that people seem newly agitated by the unseen forces determining what they see on social networks. 

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on YouTube’s content recommendations, which are designed to keep viewers engaged, but often surface bizarre conspiracy theories even for benign searches like “the pope” or “lunar eclipse.” Similarly, Mashable reported in October that kids are tricked by sketchy YouTube channels into watching strange, violent videos using their favorite cartoon characters. And there’s hardly any need to mention the obvious “fake news” crisis on Facebook’s News Feed.

Which is to say, this is a bad time for Instagram, one of the world’s most popular social networks, to rely entirely on an algorithmic feed. People are wising up. So, here are two very simple “duh” recommendations pulled directly from the service’s big brother, Facebook:

1. Give us a “most recent” feature

Much has been said about the algorithms driving Facebook’s News Feed, and rightly so. But to the social network’s credit, it’s continued to offer a chronological feed, though it is a bit hidden.

On desktop, click the three dots next to the words “News Feed,” to the left of your feed, and select “Most Recent.”

The option is less obvious in the smartphone app, but it’s still there. From any page, tap the “hamburger” icon — the three lines on the lower-right in iOS — then hit “Feeds.” You may need to scroll a bit or expand the options under the “Explore” menu. 

From there, tap “Most Recent” and you’ll see a chronological list of posts from friends and pages.

Instagram lacks any such feature, which means you’re locked into seeing whatever the app thinks is best for you.

2. Add a “See First” function

Facebook also lets you select specific friends or pages to “see first” in your News Feed. That means, even in the primary News Feed that’s algorithmically sorted, you’ll see posts from those sources first, assuming there’s anything recent to show.

If you go to an individual page or friend’s profile, you’ll see a “Following” button over or around the cover image. Mouse over that and click “See First.”

It’s basically the same thing on mobile: Go to a page or profile, then tap the “Following” icon and select the “See First” option.

Instagram lacks a similar feature. If you’d like, you can tap the three dots next to a username and select “Turn On Post Notifications,” but this is a pretty lame stopgap. Instead of seeing the person first on your feed, you’ll get an irritating notification whenever they post something. Like enough of those just-posted photos quick enough and you’re going to look like a creeper.

So, there you go, Instagram: Two easy product updates cribbed directly from your big brother Facebook. Make it happen.





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