The Influence of Facebook on Instagram’s Newsfeed

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Back in March, Instagram announced that it would be changing the way it presents its viewers feeds. Instead of placing posts in chronological order, Instagram have been developing an algorithm to optimize the order.  

Instagram’s reason for removing the chronological order of posts is, ‘you may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds’. Their new algorithm will ‘be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most’.

Instagram’s choice to adopt a similar newsfeed style to Facebook has been broadly met with criticisms from its users but what has motivated the app to make the change?

Acquired by Facebook

Instagram was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger and launched on October 6th 2010. In their first 18 months, the small team of 13 had attracted 30 million iPhone users to their app and there was a lot of interest in acquiring the company.

Though Instagram did not generate revenue, venture capitalists valued it at $500 million, a number that would soon be dwarfed by Mark Zuckerberg’s offer of $1 billion, of which $300 million would be paid in cash.

Despite other offers from Twitter and Tumblr, Systrom and Krieger went with the offer from the Facebook giant on the promise that Instagram would continue to operate relatively separately rather than be consumed by Facebook itself.

While Instagram has retained most of its identity, the takeover by Facebook has not gone unnoticed and a few recent changes have been publicly denounced.

The logo has recently been changed so that it is no longer the iconic vintage camera but now a white line icon on a sort of sunset background. It was described in the Guardian as, ‘ a white outline of a camera. As if the camera was murdered, and chalk was drawn around its body.’

Old and New Instagram Icons

Photo Credit: The Guardian

How Facebook’s Newsfeed Works

When Facebook first launched, it was just a series of profile pages where users could post things about themselves and see information about their friends. Every user had access to a page that showed when their friends had last updated their profile that they could use as a way to bounce from profile to profile. It was this page that would be developed into the Newsfeed.

When the Newsfeed was released in September 2006 Facebook users were outraged. Groups against the move quickly sprang up in protest, ironically assisted by the Newsfeed feature.

Even in its earliest stages, the Facebook Newsfeed wasn’t showing all the stories people could be seeing. The algorithm was nowhere near as detailed or sophisticated as it is now and was mainly based on a point scoring system. Engineers would assign point scores to different story formats and then multiply this number by the number of friends involved. The higher the resulting number, the further up the Newsfeed the post would appear.

In 2011, Facebook shifted their algorithm to create individualised experiences of the site. This algorithm is provided by a complex learning system and can adapt to users behaviour.

There is a whole team who meet weekly to discuss this now ever-changing algorithm. They consider how successfully the algorithm is curating their personal feeds, as well as feedback from Facebook users. Then, using their insights, they make tiny alterations to the algorithm to see how it affects the user experience.

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Page

Image credit: Facebook

Why is Facebook’s Newsfeed important?

All in all, Facebook is pretty reliant on its users seeing and interacting with ads. In the first quarter of 2016,  79% of Facebook’s revenue came from mobile ads.

In order to keep users on the site for longer, and therefore see more ads, Facebook aims to present only the things that will be of interest. It ranks stories according to a whole list of criteria from how many ‘like’s a post receives to how often you click on stories posted by that user and when the story was posted.

This aim has been transferred to ads too mutually benefitting the user and the advertiser by showing ads of most interest. This feature functions both ways on Facebook with the user being able to cite specific interests and the advertiser being able to target people who have cited specific interests.

So, while you are more likely to see the things that socially interest you within your groups of friends, your interests are also being targeted by advertisers. After all, they are more likely to get a conversion by targeting people who have already stated their interest.

What does all this have to do with Instagram?

Facebook has demonstrated that by keeping people occupied on its site, it can direct advertisers to specified groups of people. Not only this, but by incorporating the ads into the Newsfeed ad-blockers are avoided.

This is important as ad blocker usage in the USA grew by 48% in 2015 leading to estimates of $21,8 billion dollars being wasted on ads that wouldn’t be seen.

In contrast to this, Instagram ads are already driving revenue and eMarketer is predicting their ad revenues to reach $2.81 billion by 2017. This will account for more than 10% of Facebook’s global ad revenue.

By optimising the order of Instagram posts, users will still be able to see all the posts available to them but will be presented with the posts deemed to be most interesting to them first. This means that, like Facebook’s Newsfeed, ads can be targeted and promoted regardless of the time of posting.

Already, engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than on Facebook and over a third of Instagram users have used their mobile to purchase a product online. Together with the fact that 50% of Instagrammers follow brands, this makes Instagram an ideal platform for marketing and advertising campaigns.

So it seems that while Instagram’s post about the changes is heavily focussing on its user experience, it may be that they are actually putting in place strategies to increase their revenue through advertising.

But Will Instagram Users Accept the Changes?

Instagram has now started the waves of change across the network, updating the app so that newsfeeds are no longer chronological and there are lots of users who aren’t happy.

Of course, Facebook is no stranger to controversy when it comes to their updates and yet the site shows no signs of slowing down. In 2012 the number of active Facebook users rose to 1 billion. This number is still growing and as of the first quarter of 2016 Facebook has 1.65 monthly active users.

Only time will tell if Instagram users will simply get used to the new order of their feeds or whether they will leave in droves to smaller sites like Telegram or Whats App.

What Our Office Thinks

Leah: I feel personally affected, and both equally outraged and annoyed by this decision. I live for Instagram, it is for me what a morning coffee is for others. I check it before checking the news. If it’s out of chronological order I will lose all balance in life.

Erika: Now it’s the 21st Century we are told that we make our own decisions but actually social media is telling us what our decisions and preferences are. Then we only see what social media wants us to see.

Sam: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it! Everyone loves a good old scroll back through Instagram and this new algorithm is going to totally spoil that.

Suze: I find it a little invasive. Sure, social media is for interacting with others and following profiles that interest us but I don’t like the idea that Instagram assumes I want to see something based on certain information. I want to be able to make my own choices about what I see online so nope, not a fan!

Joe: ​Even though Instagram is owned by Facebook, I really liked it’s unique style of displaying pictures in chronological order, this meant I could scroll through my feed and see when people posted their picture and how many likes they got in a certain amount of time, I think it’s a bad decision for Instagram to start using the Facebook algorithm.

What do you think about the changes to Instagram? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Hannah Field

Hannah is a passionate fan of modernist literature and can usually be found curled up with a cat and a book, a steaming mug of tea within reach. Though she tolerates living on land, Hannah feels most at home underwater SCUBA diving, hoping to see turtles.

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