Instagram Tests Bringing Back the Chronological Feed

Instagram is planning to bring back the chronological newsfeed this year, as well as keeping the current algorithm-based feed and adding a more streamlined favourites feed. We explore the changes and why we think they are happening.

Why did Instagram move away from the chronological feed?

Instagram replaced the chronological feed with an algorithm-based feed in 2016.

The aim was to have an “engagement-based” ranking of the feed, which ordered content based on how likely users were to interact with the posts. Instagram believed this was the best way to connect people with the content that they will most enjoy.

They have also since argued that this allows posts to be seen by more people, stating “since switching to a ranked feed, the average post is now seen by 50% more followers than it did with the chronological model.”

However, many users were angry at this move away from the intuitive chronological feed, with complaints that they were missing new posts and being shown posts that are days old instead, as well as only seeing posts from a selection of users rather than everyone they follow.

The approach has also come under fire as many believe it can lead to the promotion of sensationalist content. 

What inspired the decision to reinstate the chronological feed?

With criticism of the algorithm-based feed remaining over several years and more scrutiny of social media platforms with recent hearings by the US Senate, it seems that the pressure on Instagram to change the feed once again became too much to ignore.

It has been framed partly as a reaction to concerns over child safety and mental health on the platform, with Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO, writing that “we want people to have meaningful control over their experience”. 

The idea behind the changes to the Instagram feed are to do with providing people with more options when it comes to how they use the app. Though it risks becoming slightly too complicated with three different feeds, it does offer more flexibility with how to use the app depending on your personal preferences. 

Interestingly, the changes will actually make the app closer to the experience on TikTok, which has a “Following” feed and a “For You”. This isn’t the first time Instagram has made changes to adopt new features that are already being used by their competitors, as we explore in this blog

Related article: Is Facebook’s Success Built on Copying Its Competitors?

What will the new Instagram look like?

The three feeds will be available on Instagram if it is rolled out to all users:

  • A Home feed – an algorithm-based feed created by Instagram which is similar to how we currently experience the app. Some believe more “suggested content” is likely to populate this feed over time, showing users content from accounts they don’t currently follow.
  • A Following feed – a chronological feed, just like before! It will be a list of the posts from the accounts you follow, in order of when they were published.
  • A Favourites feed – this will show content from particular accounts that you choose to favourite. Mosseri explains that this should be “people you don’t want to miss things from”, such as friends, family members and your favourite creators or brands. 

You can see more in this video that was posted by Instagram.

Is this a return to the “glory days”?

Maybe we’re just being sceptical, but it seems clear that social platforms are trying to save face recently as they come under increasing pressure from governments and regulatory bodies in relation to issues such as safety and data protection.

Will we see social platforms reverting to (or at least adding features of) older iterations of their apps – the “glory days” – as they continue to face criticism for the increasingly algorithm-driven and highly targeted nature of their feeds?

As we explored in our recent blog on Web3, there seems to be a certain nostalgia for the earlier versions of online life, where everything was simpler and people had more control over the experience – the very thing that Mosseri says he is trying to achieve with this Instagram feed change. 

Will this impact social media marketing?

Time will tell as to whether these changes affect how posts by businesses are seen on Instagram, but it is important to highlight that the current feed is not being replaced by a chronological feed. This will be an additional feature, which may even increase the chances of posts by a particular brand being seen as people browse the different feeds.

People have suggested that the “Home” feed might include more suggested content over time, becoming closer to the Explore page which introduces users to posts by accounts they don’t follow but might be interested in. This could hopefully improve the reach that small business accounts currently have.

It also means that people can switch on and off from being targeted by an algorithm, which may lead to more positive attitudes to social media, though this remains to be seen!