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My Instagram feed has been taken over by an algorithm, and yours will be next

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

Something was terribly amiss when I woke up today. My morning ritual of Instagram-scrolling seemed different from how I remembered it. The first post on my feed was a seven-hour-old photo of my acquaintance (whom I met on a college tour eight years ago) giving the double-bird salute. There was no way that was the most recent photo on my feed.

In disbelief, I kept refreshing the page. I follow a lot of travel accounts that make sure to post around the clock; there were bound to be beauteous shots of Machu PIcchu or Bora Bora to give me my morning jolt of inspiration. But the double-bird salute remained.

Here’s why: In a blog post titled “See the moments you care about first” on March 15, Instagram first announced feeds would soon no longer be chronological and would instead be generated by algorithms. My Instagram feed apparently fell into the “test bucket” that’s among the first feeds to try out this new algorithm.

But let’s be honest: Brett, the double-bird guy, posing at a black-tie gala is not really the first moment I care to see or even the second.

After Instagram announced the impending algorithmic filtering, an uproar ensued. And, of course, Instagram took to Twitter to try to quell the madness, which influencers like Kendall Jenner exacerbated by insisting Instagram shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken.

This move shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering its parent company Facebook (FB) revamped its news feed in 2009 by rolling out an algorithm that prioritized posts that had more audience engagement. And Twitter (TWTR), of course, reorganized its stream to show older, popular tweets for people who hadn’t used the service for a while.

To be clear, Instagram emphasizes that “all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.” That order is dictated by the user’s relationship to the poster and the timeliness of the post.

An Instagram spokesperson told Yahoo Finance the company is “still testing the algorithmic feed and hasn't rolled it out broadly” but would not share just how many of Instagram’s 400 million users fell into the test bucket like I did. The company did, however, say it would introduce the algorithm to a single-digit percentage of user groups before introducing it on a broader level.

“During the testing period we are not providing an option to toggle back to the chronological version,” Instagram told Yahoo Finance.

Facebook’s default option is its algorithm that shows you top stories. But you can actually change the setting to “most recent” — and yes, it permanently stays that way even when you log back on.

Broader implications
Instagram has become Facebook’s revenue powerhouse. The app is expected to bring in revenue of $3.2 billion, according to a report from Credit Suisse. Though Facebook doesn’t break down the financial performance by its properties (which also includes Whatsapp), Instagram contributed 11% — or $572.5 million — of the social media behemoth’s $5.24 billion first-quarter 2016 revenue.With many brands heavily relying on Instagram to stay relevant and even perpetuate their popularity (take Byrdie Beauty or Kylie Jenner’s lip kit), this algorithmic change will likely hit fledgling brands the hardest. In the past, a user might have scrolled until she recognized the last post she had seen.

Now with posts in non-chronological order, the heavily liked and engaged posts will always lead in the feed. The change won’t affect Instagram’s ad products, which already rely on similar targeting techniques. But Instagram will be able to pepper in more ads if the algorithm gets users to stay on Instagram longer. While CEO Kevin Systrom told The New York Times the change will happen slowly and “it’s not like people will wake up tomorrow and have a different Instagram,” that certainly wasn’t my experience.

But it won’t keep me off of Instagram, either.