By David Justice

Today’s biggest issue with Instagram is that the timeline is all sorts of messed up. You don’t see posts from everyone you follow, your audience is segmented off and not everyone gets to see your work, and if you scroll too far, posts are 3 days old. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s perfect and everyone is an idiot. That’s not the case at all. I think the frustration is real and deserved, just the end goal isn’t the right answer.

Let’s Talk About the Algorithm

On the posting side: I’m assuming this algorithm follows alongside Facebook’s, which people also don’t like. You share a post, a small group of people who usually like your work see the post, they like it, it gets pushed to more people. And so on and so forth. There’s basically entry gates to your posts.

On the viewing side: You open Instagram and your posts seen are things that you’d probably like (based on previous likes on their profiles) from within the hour. But as you go farther down, it’s not recent posts, but posts half a day earlier, then a day earlier, then 3 days earlier. Instead of seeing posts from 3 hours ago, you’re seeing posts that are tailored to you that you missed. And when you refresh the page, it’s a whole new set of posts and the other ones are basically gone.

It sucks. It makes sense, but it goes too far. For one, it is based off how often you like a particular person or page’s content. Which helps media hubs like Bleacher Report and SLAM Magazine who dominate my feed because I do generally like their stuff. So whenever they post, it’s usually the top of my feed no matter how long ago they posted. But at the same time if you miss a post or two from someone you follow, well, they’re basically gone forever. It’s incredibly flawed.

But when you look at it from a creator’s POV, I like it more than I would chronological posts. And for one reason. People who view my posts at different times than when I post them can still see and like the content. And that’s something that wouldn’t happen in a chronological timeline. Once your post is gone, it’s gone unless people seek out your profile or make their discover page.

Here’s Why Going Chronological Wouldn’t Really Help Engagement

How many people do you follow? Personally I follow around 700-800 people. I try to keep it around there. That’s people I’ve worked with or want to work with, user-submitted editorials that I follow for inspiration, professionals who are much better than me that make me want to quit, celebrities, and media hubs.

In this group of people, let’s say 400-550 post daily. But let’s get real, of that let’s say 450 people. 200 post at least twice a day. So now it’s 800 posts at least. But then you have to add in user-submitted editorials that post ~5 times a day. But that’s not even the largest group of posters. Media Hubs post anywhere from 10-25 times a day. These are the groups like Bleacher Report, Complex, and for some people these would be meme pages and comedy pages. These places can really take up a lot of timeline posts.

Now that we have all those groups, let’s talk about posting times. These 1000+ posts I’d be seeing in a day aren’t going to be posted at different times separated by the same amount of time (every minute to 1.5 minutes over 24 hours). They’re all done around the same time. 9am, 12pm, 6pm, and then intermittently throughout the night. Especially when it comes to NBA highlights, my timeline becomes purely basketball after 7:30pm. So if 15% of all 1000 posts are done at each of these time periods (+- 30 minutes) then that’s about 50% of all posts from my followed pages done in 6 of the 24 hours.

So let’s say you’re going to post at one of those times. You’re now going up against 30 posts that got made within the same 10 minutes. And then at the same time, your followers have to not only enjoy what you posted, but they have to be there at the right time. If you posted at 12pm, chances are if someone looks at the app at 6pm, they’re not going to see what you posted. Because just like you, they follow too many people.

Basically what I’m trying to say is no matter what, you’re never going to reach all of your followers.

Algorithm’s Are Fine, If They’re Made for the Consumer

This is the root of the problem for everyone. Instagram knows they have the community, so they tailor the algorithm towards media hubs and makes you feel like you need advertising. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but Instagram decided to take it to another level. We can all agree on that. Which is why competition like Vero is good, because it shows them that people want change and are willing to jump platforms… Even though I don’t really agree with Vero… I’ll get into it another time.

But at the end of the day, if you took all 800 MILLION monthly users from Instagram and put them all on Vero. Even if there were no hardware issues and everyone bought into their subscription plan service, they would fall into the same issue as Facebook and Instagram did.

And that’s why there’s so many issues. We want memes, we want sports, we want cooking, we want friends, and we want creatives. And there’s so many more different types of accounts out there we all follow. And that’s all fine when it’s 200 or 300 accounts. When it reaches 500 or 700, you’re going to miss posts more and more no matter whether its chronological or algorithmic.

So speaking as a creative trying to reach an incredibly small audience I’m fine with having an algorithm. As long as Instagram continues to tweak it and finds a way to balance older posts I may have missed and newer posts that I would enjoy.

This post has been republished with permission from photographer David Justice. You can follow him, chronologically or not, on Instagram @davidjusticephoto