The big Instagram news stemming from today’s Senate appearance by platform chief Adam Mosseri, which was primarily focused on how the company’s looking to improve safety and wellness for young users, is that Instagram is looking to add a chronological feed option early next year, one of the most requested features in the app.
As Mosseri explained:
“We're currently working on a version of a chronological feed that we hope to launch next year.”
Note the term ‘version’ here.
Mosseri added that the company has been working on the option for months, with progress well advanced on the prototype.
Which has plenty of users excited, and plenty of analysts assessing what that might mean.
But here’s the thing – Instagram’s coming chronological feed option is very likely going to operate the exact same way that Facebook’s feed sorting option does right now, in that you can choose to view the posts from Pages and people that you follow in time order, but you can’t set it as a default, and have the app open to that reverse chrono feed every time you come back.
The coming option will likely look like this toggle, spotted in testing by app researcher Alessando Paluzzi:
As you can see here, this new toggle would enable you to sort your main feed by ‘Favorites’, which are profiles you add to your top list, and ‘Following’, in addition to the traditional, algorithm-defined ‘Home’ feed. Paluzzi’s prediction is that the ‘Following’ feed will be displayed in reverse chronological order, which Instagram seems to allude to in its confirmation of Mosseri’s statement.
We want people to have meaningful control over their experience. We’ve been experimenting with Favorites, a way for you to decide whose posts you want to see higher up, and we’re working on another option to see posts from people you follow in chronological order.— Instagram Comms (@InstagramComms) December 8, 2021
That would mean that you will indeed be able to view your feed in time order, but it’s unlikely to be a set option – which, as noted, is exactly what you can do on Facebook right now in choosing display options for your News Feed.
The benefit of this for Instagram is that it puts the onus back on users. If people want to complain about potential algorithmic bias and ‘shadow bans’ and the like, then they have the capacity to re-sort their feed as they see fit, without algorithm intervention. While at the same time, Instagram knows that many people simply won’t bother to do this every time they open the app, enabling it to largely maintain the engagement benefits of the algorithmic feed approach (Instagram has repeatedly noted that both engagement and user experience measures have significantly improved since implementing its feed algorithm in 2016), while also blunting some of the criticism about removing the chronological feed.
So it’s a win-win in many respects - but it is worth noting that it seems unlikely that Instagram will bring back a way for your to set a reverse chronological feed display as your default, meaning it’s not really taking things back to the way that they once were.
But maybe it will. I mean, again, Mosseri was very careful with his wording, as is Instagram in its confirmation. If it was really bringing the option back, it would likely be more open – but maybe this is just interpretation, combined with skepticism imbued by similar announcements in the past.
We’ll find out soon, with Instagram set to launch the option early in the new year.