Why Instagram wants to change your news feed

The photo and video sharing site says it wants to change the type of content it serves up.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom announces Instagram Direct, a new way to send selected photos and video messages to friends, at a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 in New York.

The popular image-sharing service Instagram soon will begin to organize its news feed by most popular photos and videos instead of the most recently posted ones.

As Twitter did last month, and as Instagram’s parent company Facebook did in 2009, the image site will use an algorithm to surface photos and videos that its users are more likely to care about, such as updates from the friends a person most often interacts with. This will replace the reverse chronological order that now organizes content on Instagram.

The impetus, said the company in an announcement Tuesday, is to organize the overwhelming amount of photos and videos being shared by its 400 million monthly active users. According to its own statistics, that’s 80 million photos on average that people share every day.

“You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds,” the company wrote on its blog.

Instagram says it wants to make the 30 percent that people do see, the best possible. This serves not only Instagram users well, it also serves the company’s advertising business, which it has been aggressively growing. After all, better content means people spend more time interacting on Instagram, and so the company can show them more ads.

“These companies want to always, always give you the next best thing to look at,” Brian Blau, a vice president at technology industry research firm Gartner, told The New York Times. “If an algorithm can give you much more engaging content more frequently, you’ll stick around longer,” he said.

But engaging content might be getting buried under the growing number of posts, particularly from advertisers. This could help explain why Instagram’s tremendous growth seems to be cooling – maybe users are turned off by the onslaught of ads, as VentureBeat proposes – and why the company is trying to clean what it considers to be junk out of its news feed.

According to social media analytics firm Quintly, which analyzed 10,000 Instagram profiles from January to December 2015, average interactions per post – people liking or commenting on a photo or video – have declined by almost 40 percent throughout 2015, particularly for profiles with more than 1,000 followers.

It attributes the decline primarily to an increasingly crowded news feed. Quintly also projects that businesses, which track social interactions closely as a marker of brand loyalty and engagement, will see more decline in follower growth and interactions in 2016.

This is what Instagram is trying to prevent. The company said it will change the news feed slowly and deliberately over the coming months, lest it repel its loyal users, starting with testing on a small number of users.

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