How Instagram determines what you see

Instagram is quickly becoming one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. Increasingly more big influencers are planting their flags in its virtual space, and user numbers have long since gone through the roof. If you don’t have an account, chances are you have thought about signing up, and have often felt a bit of FOMO when others have talked about what they’ve seen posted.

On the other hand, if you do have an account, have you ever stopped and wondered what exactly goes into deciding on the order of your news feed? What exactly determines which post will appear at the top of your page? Logic says that the post is determined by who you most interact with, which posts you look at most frequently, and where your attention is most focused. This is partly true.

But it turns out that it is far more complicated than that. In fact, much of the reasoning behind your Instagram feed is based around your actions on Facebook- the brand that actually owns Instagram. Let’s take a closer look.

Big Instagram Changes

Once upon a time, the news feed in Instagram was simple and easy to understand. It was based around chronological order, which more or less operated on a system that everyone could wrap their heads around. But all that changed with a new system being implemented known as ‘feed ranking’. Since its inception, many have started scratching their heads, wondering why some posts were being prioritised over others.

Lead Designer at Instagram, Jill Nussbaum, and Product Lead Julian Gutman, had more to say about the subject. According to Nussbaum, the need to make changes came about when Instagram users complained about not seeing posts that were most important to them. The users they cared about were being overlooked, simply because they were shunted out by a blunt chronologically ordered system.

Nussbaum pushed the matter home by declaring that users were missing around 70% of posts, and of that 70%, 50% was content from friends and family. Hence, in 2016 the feed ranking system was born and the way we see what we see on the social media site changed forever.

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What Matters?

But this is a bold statement. How exactly does Instagram know what a user cares about and wants to see the most? Gutman jumped in, declaring that machine learning was the key behind determining what users wanted. According to him, software analysis user activity makes notes about where attention is granted, and predicts what will be most relevant in the future.

Most importantly, Gutman added is that machine learning is a process that never stops adapting and changing. It constantly evolves future predictions, allowing new friends and new interests to find their place in the feed. Over time, a feed may completely change, or it may stay more or less the same. It depends on how Instagram is being used on a regular basis and how active a person is, and how active the people they interact with are.

The Facebook Connection

Gutman was clear about the fact that Facebook and Instagram are linked and sharing data on a constant basis. But, interestingly enough, he did not go into much detail in his recent interview. He stated only that data is used from Facebook in order to tailor Instagram in a number of ways.

He added only that relationships between a user and friends is a key aspect of adjusting an Instagram feed, and that relationships established on Facebook play a role in this. Gutman did not add more on the topic than that, other than to say he seemed somewhat keen to avoid talking more about the Facebook connection, and how much it shapes the experience on Instagram.

Gutman’s avoidance may or may not be linked to the recent controversy surrounding Facebook, and the scandal involving privacy breaches. Either way, most are likely aware that Facebook and Instagram share data in a completely legal and upfront way. Chances are that Facebook are simply pushing for talk on data sharing to be kept to a bare minimum, as it hasn’t worked out so well for them in the past.

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