You know, I didn’t want to join Instagram, but I had adopted a kitten with an internet following, and the following wanted to know how the kitten was doing. For a while, I dutifully updated once a week. But then Instagram started to change.
Two big things happened in 2016. First, there were the changes to the feed. Algorithmic. Well, all right. Then, the Snapchat imitation: the Story. It was whatever. I didn’t mind it. After a while, I stopped posting photos in favor of posting Stories because more people looked at the Stories. There started to be more ads clogging the Stories, so I stopped watching as many. And I stopped posting photos or Stories as often.
Then came the ham-fisted video stuff: IGTV, which I avoided as much as I could, and the TikTok imitation Reels, which were much more difficult to avoid. This is where the algorithmic feed really bit people. I saw stuff passed around on social media about how to please the algorithm: a certain number of Stories, a certain number of Reels. If you didn’t do what the algorithm wanted, people simply wouldn’t see your posts. But unlike influencers, who have based their businesses on this platform, I could simply choose not to do that. I used Instagram less and spent more time on Reddit since I prefer text to video.
Now, there’s something to make the feed still worse: “discovery.” That’s when a bunch of videos from people you don’t follow get shoehorned into your feed. That’s where we are now with Instagram. The people who I have made an effort to follow — the people whose posts I most want to see — are getting de-ranked for strangers’ videos.
Come now the Kardashians, who have said that the new Instagram sucks. These women make money on Instagram; indeed, the platform wooed them deliberately and built itself around influencers such as the Kardashians. Unlike me, they are actually important constituents of Instagram, and so the platform’s head, Adam Mosseri, responded.
Sounding like an exhausted parent, Mosseri agreed that Instagram’s new feed sucked and its recommendations might be bad and then told us it wasn’t going to get better. Instagram no longer cares about photos.
According to Mosseri, Instagram’s users are shifting to video. That may even be true! Certainly, I did not want to switch to video and consequently stopped using the platform as much. Meanwhile, people who use Instagram as a way of making money were forced to post more videos to remain in people’s feeds. Doesn’t seem very organic, if you ask me.
It’s funny to see Instagram Facebookify because no one wants to use Facebook either. (I quit in 2006, rejoined briefly to post Verge stories before we automated our social process, and then quit again.) People talk about Facebook like it’s a drag, and it’s increasingly how they talk about Instagram, too.
The platform changes are upending people’s businesses for two reasons: one, because they have to rejigger everything yet again to try to please the algorithm, but two, because Instagram is driving parts of the audience away. I mean, if I want to watch a TikTok, I will, you know? I literally came to Insta for the cat photos.
But Facebook is in a tough position. It’s renamed itself “Meta” after something that doesn’t yet exist and has to figure out how to keep the lights on while it “builds the metaverse” or whatever. (What is the metaverse’s killer app, pray tell?) And Apple’s privacy push — “Ask app not to track” — has cost $10 billion in lost Facebook revenue.
So the changes suck, and Mosseri is letting us all know that Facebook doesn’t care that the changes suck. It’s just trying to squeeze as much growth-hacky engagement out of its legacy platforms as it can. High-quality photos — the original value proposition of Instagram — matter less than scammy ads for weight loss, speed (oh, sorry, “ADHD treatment”), and ketamine. Quite a way to fall from that first Michael Kors ad! Seems like Instagram is, in some important sense, over.
Look, I’ve quit various social media sites before. I know this feeling well. Instagram is desperate, and no one likes you when you’re desperate. The question is, mostly, where I will go. BeReal is more fun, but it loads slowly, and I hate notifications. Twitter isn’t really meant for cat photos. Can someone just build a simple photo app that isn’t sleazy and let me know where it is so that my friends can join it? I have a lot of cat photos I’d like people to look at.