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Instagram's Immersive Feed is a Pig Trough

Rob Díaz
Rob Díaz
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Instagram's old logo, with 2 pigs in the background and a pig trough

It seems that with every update, Instagram takes another step towards alienating its original user base. Their latest tweak optimises user feeds for low-quality, addictive video content, and the aim is clearly to suck people's attention into their app longer. What was once a place to see beautiful photography from your friends seems to have lost its mind, as business goals are prioritised over user needs (to the detriment of mental health).

With Instagram's latest 'Immersive Feed' update, you'll be lucky to spot your friends amongst all the noise:

The slow creep of mediocrity

Tobias van Scheider, founder of MyMind, sums up what's happening with social media in 'The Slow Creep of Mediocrity', and it's perfectly fitting for Instagram. Driven by algorithms, Insta is being designed for low attention spans and mindless scrolling:

The slow creep of mediocrity. A screenshot of a short text
The slow creep of mediocrity

Every reply to Adam Mosseri's tweet (Head of Instagram) is pretty negative to say the least, with the kindest calling Instagram TikTok 2. Why would they continue to roll it out?

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Unhealthy Content and Manipulative Design

Despite the outcry against these manipulative algorithms and the annoyance of seeing videos from people we don't even know, the fact is, people still use Instagram – probably more and more! The problem is a human one (and so a design one). People keep using Instagram for the same reason as they keep eating unhealthy food - it tastes good, and we can't get enough of it. Eating high fat triggers the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain (Scientific American):

Rats given access to high-fat foods showed some of the same characteristics as animals hooked on cocaine or heroin Katherine Harmon in Scientific American

While there's good fat, like the naturally occurring fat in nuts, there's also the awful human-manufactured fat in fast-food and snacks. It's full of preservatives and definitely going to kill you. Instagram is that type of fat.

High-fat, low nutrition

Just like food, evolution made us curious and hungry for new information, and social media preys on this. Manipulative design techniques (also known as behavioural design, or behaviour modification) use these ingrained human behaviours as weaknesses against us, serving us high quantities of gimmicky content that keeps us scrolling.

Behavioural Design is a systematic understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to behavioural change. – Sue

It's called the 'Immersive Feed' because it's designed to trap us. It feeds off our dopamine to stay alive – the majority content that surfaces is rarely of any real substance, and just acts as a distraction from reality. It's depressing!

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Network Effects and Addiction

The reason we can't get out, is also because of the network Instagram already has. As highlighted by Jaron Lanier in his book about deleting social media accounts, once an app starts to work, it takes a lot to get rid of it:

The unfortunate result is that once an app starts to work, everyone is stuck with it. It’s hard to quit a particular social network and go to a different one, because everyone you know is already on the first one. It’s effectively impossible for everyone in a society to back up all their data, move simultaneously, and restore their memories at the same time.

It's like convincing the hungriest and laziest group of pigs to go on a diet, when there is a trough full of delicious treats right under their noses. Instagram designers might argue that they're just designing what people like to use, but drug dealers can say the same thing!

What do you think? Let me know on Twitter.

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Rob Díaz

Thinking about the web and open source

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