Yesterday, I wanted to flit through my instagram feed. It’s a frustrating exercise at the best of times as Instagram is an algorithmic feed. What this means is somewhere in Instagram land is code that attempts to identify what is most relevant/interesting/important to you. In my case, it is an abject failure.
I’d be fine with this if Instagram allowed me to say “show me my feed in a chronologically descending order – most recent first”. But it doesn’t.
There are multiple downsides for me. The platform is increasingly unusable. Yesterday it decided the most important posts for me to see were posts that were 14 days old. Instagram is a social media feed. 14 days is ancient history. All due respect but there is no way in hell that this is even remotely relevant/interesting/important to me now. It is old news. I don’t read 14 day old newspapers. Why Instagram thinks that 14 day old social media posts might be most important to me is beyond me. Their algorithm does not work.
What is particularly frustrating is that every single evening before I go to bed, I take a look through instagram. And there are a subset of accounts which I want to see every single night. I search for them every night even though they are accounts which I follow. Instagram does not care. They can cheerfully show me ads for the same professional accounts every day – I’m sick of seeing ads for the Economist across both Facebook and Instagram for example – but they cannot show me the accounts I follow in the order that I want to see them. I cannot be allowed to see these things in order of time.
I can get around some of this where someone automatically posts their instagram feed to a twitter account and that can be followed via my newsreader. But.
On a wider scale, I’m increasingly re-appraising how I use these tools. I started cleaning out my twitter account of accounts that no longer interested me recently, and I’ve also started using the mute word facility. Aside from the whole time sink thing, one of the things that struck me was the low level menu of frustration, anger, annoyance and feeling disheartened that seemed to be constantly following me around.
Over the past few days, via the vagaries of my twitter feed, and Twitter’s tendency to think I need to know who liked what, I have see the same New York Times article posted to my timeline a thousand times. Twitter is able to know what I’ve seen and who has seen what. It counts these things and uses them as metrics. So it should be able to see that I’ve seen a particular link many, many times. For things like telling me people liked a certain link, I don’t need to keep seeing this. It’s not that it isn’t relevant to me; it is that it isn’t constantly relevant to me.
And yet, not only that, Twitter feeds and refeeds me tweets and links I’ve seen many times for long periods. It’s like I said above. I don’t read 14 day old newspapers and so I don’t need Breaking News retweeted to me 5 days later. Breaking news tweets desperate need to expire and Twitter needs to stop nagging me about things
While we’re at it, they read the links to post to me – they have to be able to display them – but my experience is that if those links include words from your mutelist, they still get posted to you. They could fix that too.
Things I didn’t need: algorithmic feeds telling me what other people liked. Things I did need: news items expiring as they cease to be fresh and a comprehensive ability to block content that they are ramming down my throat so much that the platform is getting unusable that includes links.
In truth, I have to re-evaluate what I use these sites for. I could probably live without Instagram and switch back to Flickr for example. I’ve historically found twitter a den of information. It’s just lately, it’s been a den of frustration and a tool which other people can use to manipulate my emotions.
Much of what I blocked this weekend wasn’t information. It related to things people wanted me to feel outraged about. You can argue that this is delusional, but I’d like to get from Twitter the things I got originally. Tools for stuff that interest me. A large amount of my twitter feed used to be basically photography and digital art. I’m interested in machine learning. Much of that feed is tainted, sadly by American politics. I don’t get much news. I get some news stories, massively amplified. Harvey Weinstein and Tom Humphries wrecked my twitter feed for so long that I eventually muted as much as I could about them. But I still get served up links (which I have often already seen a dozen times because twitter isn’t much of a curator). It’s not that I want to hide in some fluffy bubble with a fluffy toy. It’s that being outraged All The Time is exhausting. It assumes there is nothing going on in the real world that causes me concern.
I’m not asking twitter to be therapy. I’m asking for it to feed a certain need which is information about things that interest me, chat with people who are my friends, and the ability to tune out things that are designed to make me emotionally exhausted. I read newspapers. It’s amazing. A newspaper doesn’t flick back to page 4 every few minutes to force you to read the same story over and over and over again with a view to making you angry, upset and unhappy.
Remember, Facebook actually experimented with making its users more and less negative.
So I tune out. I’m the product. Shortly, if Twitter and instagram continue to mess their products around, they won’t have any customers. .