29 June 2018

TechCrunch: “How Instagram’s algorithm works”

Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts.

Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  1. Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.
  2. Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.
  3. Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.
Josh Constine

Interesting article, I didn’t realized the Instagram feed ranking criteria were never explicitly spelled out like this – also, I always assumed they would be very similar, if not identical, to Facebook’s criteria. Based on my experience, I feel that some of these rules are enforced (or should I say followed) more strictly than others. The ranking of photo vs. video for example is very consistent for me: I almost never interact with videos, and so I see very few videos in my news feed. The recency rule on the other hand is anything but consistent: I often encounter photos I’ve seen (or even liked!) before. Maybe these are temporary glitches during algorithm updates, or caused by switching from the mobile to the desktop feed, but they are rather confusing.

How Instagram's algorithm works

Since I’m on the subject of ranking, I recently had a Twitter exchange about Instagram’s algorithm for sorting Stories. The other person was under the impression it’s strictly chronological, while I was arguing it’s ranked by my past engagement with those accounts. According a Quora post, it turns out… it’s both! The first slots are reserved for the people you watch the most, while the rest are in reverse chronological order, although it may be more complicated than that in the finer details.

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