I’ve said this already in a previous post, when we look back at the defining characteristics of the social media landscape in 2016 the word ‘algorithm’ is highly likely to feature.
When Instagram switched on their algorithm earlier this year –ending the much-loved chronological era – it saw them join Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in implementing an algorithm and means all of the big social media players are choosing our content for us.
Now, we all know why these algorithms have been adopted –money talks – but what are they actually like for users? Time to look at them in more detail I think, so here we are – four algorithm reviews and a celebrity assigned to each one for fun and further explanation.
But mainly fun.
You might not like it, but it’s tough to argue against Facebook’s algorithm being the best one out there for individual users. Yes, the constant tweaks from Mr Zuckerberg’s team are a pain – especially when they continue to quash the reach of brands and publishers – but the algorithm has made my personal newsfeed inherently more useful.
You just need to know how to train it.
Yes, you read that right – you need to train your Facebook feed. As clever as algorithms are (and they are really very clever) they do need your help. That means clicking like if you see something you like, rather than just grinning and scrolling on. That means adding a comment if you see something that evokes a response. That means sharing if you see something brilliant.
It all helps.
But, you can also help train your newsfeed to filter out stuff you don’t like; next to every post on Facebook you’ll see a grey downward arrow – click it to get a host of options to tidy up the clutter. You can report things that are offensive, block annoying apps (cough, cough Farmville), ban content from certain pages appearing in your feed (so long Lad bible) and you can unfollow people too, meaning you put an end to their annoying baby photos without the stigma on unfriending them (no, of course that doesn’t mean I’ve unfollowed you, person I went to school with who I’ve never spoken to since and who is now a parent…definitely haven’t).
With a few days of effort, you can get Facebook’s algorithm giving you really good value every time you log in to the platform – and surely that’s what you want? It will also help remind you what sort of content you need to share on the site if you’re a brand or publisher – your content needs to make the people viewing it do something.
Oh, and high five to Facebook for having a pretty seamless blend from desktop to app and vice versa – it always feels like part of the same journey, which can’t be said for other sites.
Facebook’s algorithm is Muhammad Ali – controversial but undeniably the champion
Do you remember the fury when Twitter floated the idea of an algorithm joining its party? Like the reaction on Instagram, it got heavy and understandably so; Twitter’s whole being is about the now, the moment, the chronology. It’s confusing enough for newbies in chronological order, so messing with that would have been disastrous.
However, Twitter listened to the feedback, went away and came back with some algorithmic elements that add real value without changing the platform. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve not even noticed them.
What am I talking about? A couple of things.
Firstly, have you noticed those ‘while you were away’ tweets in your timeline? Almost always flagging tweets you’ve missed from accounts you regularly interact with. That’s no coincidence, that’s Twitter’s algorithm being helpful. It means I hardly ever miss out on stuff I care about – whether that’s musings from my pal Chris Nee, music news from my favourite podcast or great sector insight from another pal Eric Stoller, Twitter has my back.
And, if I’m not bothered about seeing old tweets, they are really easy to dismiss – one tap and they’re out of the way.
Another element of their algorithm is the ‘you might like’ feature for similar reasons as above. The suggestions I get thrown are usually pretty good and, again, if they’re not I can shift them out of the way very quickly.
While I think Facebook’s algorithm is the best, my favourite would definitely be Twitter’s. It is helpful, non-intrusive and has been built to be something the community will welcome.
Twitter’s algorithm is Joe Allen – underrated, classy and a great team player
OH DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???
Up until a few weeks ago, I was feeling very smug as my Instagram was still chronological.
Not any more.
The algorithm has hit my feed and, based on my first week’s experience with it, I hate it. It doesn’t make sense, it’s confusing and I’m missing content I know that I want to see.
I only follow 132 people on Instagram – in anticipation of the algorithm, I recently did a huge cull of accounts I’m following to ensure that the posts I really like the most will still make it through.
But that hasn’t happened.
So far, I’ve only seen content from 12 accounts. 12. Out of 132.
This is hella annoying.
Now, I realise that this early iteration algorithm is probably showing me those accounts I’ve given the most likes to in the past and, obviously, I need to train the algorithm further on what content I like.
However, how on earth can I do this without being shown more accounts? I’m a big believer in dishing out likes on Instagram, but doing it now will just reinforce the tiny list of accounts and I’ll never see other content.
This algorithm was introduced because, in Instagram’s own words, 70% of posts were missed. Well, I’m now missing out on content from 90% of accounts that I follow.
Thanks a lot. My FOMO score on Instagram is now stupidly high.
Also, the feed just looks weird – I regularly see blocks of posts from one account in a row, which goes completely against the generally accepted good advice of not bulk posting on Instagram.
And one last thing, I genuinely can’t remember seeing any ads since the algorithm. I really didn’t mind the ads previously and surely the point of the algorithm is to allow more ads to come through? It all feels odd.
In short, with its algorithm, Instagram seems to be soiling its own bedsheets.
I’m certain it will improve – it wouldn’t be difficult to be honest – but early impressions are not good in the slightest.
Instagram’s algorithm is any of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage or Michael Gove – promises one thing, creates havoc, then reveals they didn’t really have a plan at all.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this…I don’t know about you, but my LinkedIn is completely random – each time I log in it looks totally different, like it’s been generated by a totally different algorithm.
For instance, I recently seemed to only see ‘person X had a new connection’, then I would see ‘person Y likes this’ and now, without doing anything, I hardly see any if this sort of thing.
The order of things on LinkedIn – especially on their app – is a bit bonkers. Seeing something from 5 minutes ago next to something from 5 days ago, on a platform I use every single day, just isn’t helpful at all.
Then, in reminding myself of LinkedIn’s feed for this post, I came across something equally odd; I started following someone’s Pulse posts and, the moment I returned to my newsfeed, found every other post to be from that newly-followed person – none of them Pulse posts either.
In short, when it comes to LinkedIn’s algorithm, I just don’t get it. It feels like something produced by something in the middle of a sugar-fuelled brainstorming session on a Friday afternoon, constantly throwing new attempts back me while grinning wildly and shouting “How about this? Look at that! This just happened! This happened ages ago! Look at these!”
However, in LinkedIn’s defence I love that they still have a ‘show most recent posts’ option – until their algorithm becomes more sophisticated I’ll be using that as my default.
LinkedIn’s algorithm is Will.I.Am – a man famed for having 100 ideas a day. Just ideas. Not good ones. Just lots of ideas.
What do you think of these different algorithms? Like them? Loathe them? Got some better celebrity comparisons for me? Let me know!