Stop wasting time on Instagram with friends – Algorithms and attention

Instagram is a photo based social network that allows two types of users, ego-maniacs on one side, and explorers on the other, to share images of interesting things they see and do. Some people share beautiful mountain images and others share images of their trips to Paris, Rome and more. I share images of Via Ferrata, climbing and a number of fun sports. The ego-maniacs share images of themselves in as many places as possible.

Instagram is a “last active, first seen” kind of social network. We see the most recent images first. We see active users frequently. Less engaged viewers are less visible. This is a participation reward model. The more engaged you are with the community and the more people will see your content. There is no favouritism.

The algorithmic timeline will penalise the most active users and encourage the cult of personality. The Cult of Personality social media model is great for marketers and public relations accounts because it makes those with the most likes and comments more visible. When you’re conversing with two hundred or more people this is enviable. As people interact connections are created and communities form. Conversations are a two direction affair.

According to Statista Instagram now has 400 million users. Selena Gomez is the most followed person on Instagram at the time this post was written. 69 million people follow the account. Images from the account are suitable for a glossy magazine rather than a social network. They lack in warmth and familiarity. The account is cold as a result.  These cold and impersonal images can easily get a million likes and algorithms will push this content to the detriment of images by friends and family.

Chronological timelines are great because activity and personal engagement reward account holders. When you switch to an algorithm based timeline you will unfollow celebrities to avoid having their posts flood your timeline.

Facebook demonstrates what happens when you shift from a chronological timeline to an algorithm timeline. User engagement and interest declines and what were once vibrant conversations lose in appeal and the return on invested time, for users declines. This decline results in the network’s tab being closed in our browsers and the app becomes dormant.

Dormant networks resort to sending e-mails to re-engage their users. Both Twitter and facebook do this. Imagine if you received a tweet to let you know that you got an e-mail or that e-mails appeared in your Facebook timeline. It demonstrates that networks like Facebook and twitter, by focusing on making money, forgot to make their products essential. By making this mistake both Facebook and Twitter need to nag us to come back via e-mail.

If algorithms are used in timelines then the algorithm should keep posts by our friends chronological and apply the algorithm to celebrity accounts. We already have an algorithmic option on Instagram via the explore tab. Instagram must resist the urge to break personal timelines as this will disengage users.



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