In the world of enterprise software products, which I have been involved in designing since 1997, we have a saying: “Don’t leave customers behind.”
That means, in the inevitable reality of having to make technical and feature changes, don’t screw the user, to phrase it bluntly. Sometimes companies choose to leave behind a legacy system and force users onto something that makes sense for them going forward, such as not supporting a very old version of a product, or requiring a different hardware configuration for a new operating system or piece of software. Adjustments the user will have to make cannot be taken for granted, and large traditional technology companies with paying users know that. The goal from an experience perspective is to deal with this in the best way you possibly can for the users/customers you have. To state the obvious, so you protect the bottom line – losing a lifelong customer is a problem you want to avoid.
Enter 2016, a world of free user bases who use products en masse without cost, and companies who take advantage of that liberally.
That has become a new expectation on both sides. That doesn’t make it a good or right approach, however, from the perspective of a uxp evangelist.
Back in March, Instagram did some test runs of changing the feed to an algorithm-based guess as opposed to the chronological format users are accustomed to, and apparently prefer. Despite getting negative feedback from these trial runs, in June they began rolling this change out to everyone, turning such a deaf ear to the complaints about it that they have not even provided an option to switch to so users can see posts in order they were posted.
Owned by Facebook, notorious for feed changes and even user base psychological experimentation which has alarmed user experience advocates and other professionals like psychologists who have the foresight to wonder about consequences, it is not that surprising that the habit of messing with people’s posts and minds has trickled down to the Instagram team. Predictably, it’s a problem for the people using this app.
I love how literally everyone has told @Instagram that they hate the out of order post and yet they refuse to change it.
– Cassie Hampson (@ZombieGoddessxi) July 11, 2016
Cassie may not be technically correct, but that is the same reaction I am seeing – ALL of my friends I have talked to about this hate it, find it confusing, can’t believe they changed it without providing the option for chronological viewing, etc.
Most users, it seems, simply can’t follow the logic of the change, as Dale explains:
Seriously.. Change your feed back to normal. It’s annoying to see something 7 hours ago before something 7 minutes ago… 🙄🙄 @instagram
– dale (@plasticdale) July 9, 2016
Cherie pinpoints a huge issue that modern social platforms seem unable to grasp – it’s like it is a flaw in their DNA:
@instagram How can I change my feed back to chronological? Your algorithm doesn’t understand what is important to me and whats not!
– Cherie Grimm (@cheriegrimm) July 7, 2016
The data is beginning to reflect what I myself have experienced – I am not wanting to use Instagram as much now. It is annoying to open the app and see posts hopped around from all over the place. Interacting in real-time with someone as I am used to, then realizing they posted their image 9 hours ago and so are not even doing this anymore, feels stupid.
– Quentin Masson (@quentinmasson57) July 13, 2016
Keiran is in the same boat I am. I hop on and off, barely engaging once the annoyance factor kicks in (after seeing 5-6 images.)
I engage with Instagram much less often and for much shorter durations since the algorithmic feed change.
– Keiran Flanigan (@aeliox) July 1, 2016
Have you noticed I am using people’s real names with these tweets? There’s a reason for that. Users are real people, with their own personalities and opinions, and it is in your best interest to really listen to them. Not just on Twitter. Talk to them. Ask them to come in for usability testing, and observe them, because talking to them is not good enough… they don’t always say what they are thinking and sometimes say contradictory things to what they are doing, for a variety of psychological reasons. Go where they are using Instagram and observe them using it in the field, without interrupting them.
Barbara and Bettie explain facets of the chronological order that present functional issues now. Some users, depending on number of followers, like to see every single post from their friends, and keep scrolling until they have when they have time. That is completely impossible now.
Hey @instagram -not really liking the feed change. I liked viewing the posts in chronological order so I knew where I’d left off ☹️
– Barbara Miller (@BarbaraAMiller) July 1, 2016
this “curated” @instagram feed is horrible. I see the same posts multiple times. collections are out of order. please change it back! 😣
– Bombshell Bettie (@bombshellbettie) June 27, 2016
Billy sums up the potential app-killing ramification of not taking hundreds of users feedback into consideration:
One advantage to the Instagram feed change is I don’t spend as much time on Instagram anymore. Cause that shit is broke.
— S.Mason Esq. (@billyfleetwood) June 29, 2016
Harsh, but fair.
Leave users behind at the risk of losing them completely, and putting an app at risk that is viable and was formerly enjoyable and a necessary part of people’s daily lives. You have just opened the door wide to competitors, inviting them to take users away from you. Stockholders and stakeholders love that!
Want to see more comments from real users? Hundreds are in this simple Twitter search for “Instagram feed change” and I only saw a couple that even approached neutral or positive. A couple, out of quickly scanning at least 100-200 tweets and choosing the above comments. If you are a software provider, use these as learning examples and think about the functional changes you make, head down at the conference table, that translate to real user issues later.
I will at some point describe how to make changes that are necessary for technical, market, or business reasons that don’t neglect to at least attempt to bring users gently and with a lot more integrity into these changes with you. The experience does not have to look like this.