Instagram to Drop the Insta?
Tremors have been felt across the social media landscape over the last few weeks as word spread about Instagram’s alleged changes, rumoured to have been implemented today. As Instagram are thought to be changing the algorithm so you only see what the company deems relevant to your interests and not what appears chronologically and organically the instant you open the app, Instagram feeds were plagued with “Turn on Notifications” notices over the Easter weekend as account owners strove to ensure that followers would continue to see their pictures beyond the supposed imminent instapocalypse. The fear amongst Instagrammers is that once the change takes place, their organic output and feeds will be overshadowed by sponsored posts and that unsponsored images will be cast aside as irrelevant and unseen by their account followers.
Instagram’s rumoured change echoes the move that Facebook made some years ago. Do you remember the time when your Facebook newsfeed was intertwined with a random mix of status updates from the new job of a bloke you had met once in a beachside bar in Thailand three years before alongside a picture of your best friend’s sister’s new puppy and a picture of a childhood friend’s wedding? (pardon the Facebook status clichés! They were just examples that came to mind…) As random as that was, some people liked that randomness. It was a time when if you ran a Facebook page, you did not have to pay to have your updates seen by your fans. Nowadays, thanks to the evolution of algorithms, it is fair to say that the Facebook newsfeed is somewhat akin to a carefully edited personal magazine – advertisements of brands, bands and products that are (mostly) relevant to your interests, desires, recent web browsing, a scattering of updates from your nearest and dearest (mostly) or those you were recently in touch with…and posts from the pages and publications you engage with… There is nothing wrong with all that… but well… it’s just different. It’s not the random mix it once was. A more efficient and predictable platform it may be for both advertisers and viewers but it is not quite the chaotic party of possibility it once was where you could run into an old flame, be reminded of an old acquaintance at the other side of the world and introduced to a new band all in the space of 3o seconds on your way to work on a Tuesday morning. And, despite the universal concept of control being preferable to a lack of…there was a certain charm in the randomness that was the Facebook newsfeed that Instagram stepped in to offer.
Random, organic and entirely orchestrated by the viewer, there was an innocence to the Instagram newsfeed that made the platform feel more personal, safe and uninhibited than the somewhat contrived shape that Facebook had taken. As people became less likely to offer a consistent stream of personal status updates on Facebook to compete with the voices of advertisers, they were perfectly happy to post pictures of their breakfast, outfits, favourite quotes, work and family life on Instagram. And even though the default setting on Instagram accounts is public, most people are perfectly happy to lay scenes from their lives out in the form of an open digital mobile coffee table book for the whole world to see. On the other hand, while Facebook is a closed microcosm (ok giant microcosm) in which your content is behind a wall, only for your “friends” to see, the nature of personal Facebook posts has become decidedly less personal. Love it or hate it, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, is a reality TV show that offers a good barometer on the climate of social media and five minutes’ footage of the show will tell you that Instagram plays a big part in the lives of its privileged Californian twenty-something subjects. One of the show’s brightest stars, Morgan Stewart, summed things up rather nicely last year; “Nowadays, posting a photo with someone you’re dating on Instagram is basically replacing the old Facebook status update of ‘In a relationship’.” She then reflected, “There’s like dust on my Facebook. I haven’t changed my Facebook in that long.” We certainly wouldn’t say that Facebook no longer serves a purpose but Instagram has been serving the purpose that Facebook abandoned when it took more control over what we see some years ago and it would be a pity to see Instagram give it up for the sake of monetisation under the guise of “relevant content”. Instagram users readily accepted the introduction of sponsored posts into their feeds last year, understanding that the wonderful platform needed to make money somehow but will they be so supportive of a restructuring of its very instant nature they have come to rely on and love so well?
Instagram announced on Twitter (yes, Twitter) today that no changes have been implemented yet, “We’re listening and we assure you nothing is changing with your feed right now. We promise to let you know when changes roll out broadly.” A sigh of relief swept across the avid (/hooked) Instagram community but as the unsettling winds of change are sensed and vaguely foretold, it is doubtful (from reaction to the Twitter status above alone) that its members will hold their breaths and that the platform will remain a safe haven of free-flowing personal visual expression for long. We’re just hanging on to the first half of Instagram’s Twitter announcement in hope in the meantime. Dear Instagram, we hope you are listening.
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