Could we be seeing the beginnings of a shift away from algorithms and back to real-time feeds?
Recently, we saw Instagram move to show more recent content in its main feed, in response to user criticism of the algorithm-defined listings, and now, Snapchat’s also reportedly conducting a new test in which some users have been switched back to chronological order, as opposed to their algorithm determined feed.
The test comes after much criticism of Snap’s redesign, which included the algorithm-defined feed. Various high profile users have publicly criticized the change – the most recent of which being model Chrissy Teigen, who announced she’d quit Snapchat via tweet.
I stopped using snap. The update, the constant complaints of people not being able to find me, plus the Rihanna poll...no bueno— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) March 24, 2018
The algorithm has also made it more difficult for some influencers, which the system was supposed to help. Some have reported seeing significant declines in response rates on the platform – whereas the design of the new Discover section was intended to showcase their work to a broader audience by placing it alongside publisher content.
The test suggests that the backlash to the algorithm is having an actual impact on usage. Most changes on social networks see criticism – take Twitter’s shift to a more algorithm-defined feed for example – but then the initial frustration settles and things go back to normal. In Twitter’s case, usage rates have actually climbed since the introduction of the algorithm, which is obviously why social platforms more towards algorithm feeds in the first place, because highlighting the best content the platform has to offer boosts user engagement.
Snap’s latest move would appear to indicate the opposite. While users haven’t held back in criticizing the change, it does seem that the platform may now be getting concerned about reduced usage as a result.
It’s hard to say what a potential reversal of the algorithm could mean for the app. Ideally, Snap needs to showcase the best content available within their network, which, as noted, will keep users engaged for longer. But the shift to an algorithm listing, within the contacts section particularly, seems to have been overly disruptive to the user flow. And given that it's the most used section of the app, it would make sense for Snap to keep users happy, and coming back to the app more often, as opposed to losing them for the sake of trying to show them more relevant content.
That could mean we see a chronological feed return to the main section, but an algorithm-defined listing in Discover. This approach would make sense, but it could also be seen as a stumble for the app, which may raise concerns in the market.
Right now, Snapchat hasn't confirmed the test, so we have little information to go on, other than some users seeing the change. We'll keep you updated on any shifts as they come through.