Instagram isn’t going chronological, and is now telling us why

Instagram explains why it's steering clear of reverse chronological feeds

The Instagram community is buzzing with the possibility of the news feed reverting back to chronological order after one user posted a video scrolling through a chronologically ordered news feed — but Instagram says the current presentation isn’t going anywhere.

Photographer Jack Harding (@JackHarding) shared a video in his Instagram Story showing nine posts in the feed, chronologically ordered. The video — and the possibility of going back to chronological order — created a buzz, with several users and publications discussing the possibility.

The company has publicly stated that it is not going chronological, and now, is giving us better sense of its rationale. In a recent press briefing, the product lead for Instagram’s feed, Julian Gutman, told journalists that the photo sharing app is “not thinking about [chronological ordering] at this time.” The reason, a spokesperson said, is that users tend to spend more time in the app when they’re presented with an algorithmic rather than a reverse chronological feed. And that’s not just good for Instagram’s ad revenue  — it also allows users to see the posts that they want to see, even if those photos and videos were posted awhile ago. In fact, Instagram claims that its algorithmic feed allows users to see 90 percent of the posts from their close friends and family, while a reverse chronological feed would only show them about 50 percent of these posts.

“As we’ve dug in more and tried to understand why people ask for chronological, it’s not a universal thing,” Gutman added. “It isn’t a single reason that people want chrono, and I think what we’re really trying to understand is what are those different frustrations that people have and how can we build that in to their personalized feed experience.”

Instagram is, however, giving users a new option to control their feeds. In a recent blog post, the social media platform discussed its “New Posts” button. This button will give users more control over when their feed refreshes. Once pressed, the users will be taken to the top of their feed, with newer posts being more likely to appear first than older ones. It isn’t a full reversion to chronological feeds, but it does give users a bit more control over how and when new posts appear.

Instagram’s algorithms use several factors in determining which posts to show first, including the engagement or the number of likes and comments the post receives. But timeliness is also included among those factors, as Instagram said in the original blog post announcing the change to a non-chronological feed, which means that the time the post was shared is still a factor in how the posts are displayed.

A quick scroll through my Instagram after not logging on for a few days had around five posts that appeared to be chronologically ordered before the time stamp on the posts appeared to jump back and forth.

Instagram’s algorithm, which includes when the post was shared, occasionally made posts appear to be ordered chronologically. The time spent in the news feed could also play a factor — since Instagram algorithms avoid showing the same post twice, users frequently checking their feed could have fewer posts for that algorithm to work with.

While Instagram’s chronological news feed change back in 2016 was met with mixed reactions, Instagram said it made the decision to adjust the news feed because around 70 percent of posts were going unseen in the chronological format. Timelines created by algorithms, rather than time stamps, are now the more popular option among the biggest social networks. Besides Facebook and Instagram, Twitter also uses algorithmic timelines, but users also have the option to still switch back to chronological order.

Updated on June 3: Instagram gives further explanation as to why we won’t see chronological feeds.