So, a few months ago, this happened…

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Let’s talk about what this actually means.

First of all, remember that when someone gives you something for free, such as Twitter, or Facebook, you are not the user. You are the product. Your actions are tracked, and that data is used to sell ads to companies who are hoping that you will click on their advert and buy lots of stuff from them.

In reality, it’s far more complex than this, but this is the process in a nutshell. The important thing to understand is that your eyeballs (and therefore your dollars/pounds/euros) are BIG BUSINESS.

So when a company that gives me an experience as delightful as I get from Instagram suddenly pulls out a statistic like “70% of their feeds” I immediately think…

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As Mark Twain said, there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics. When people—or companies—present statistics without bothering to provide a source, I’m fairly certain that they are pulling these numbers out of their ass.

For example,

  • 88% of all people who read this blog at least weekly indicate a great deal of happiness and satisfaction with life. In addition, they are extremely popular at parties.
  • 73% of all people who have donated money to this blog have reported receiving a huge promotion and pay increase within two weeks of that donation. 81% of those people also received an invisible pink unicorn in their benefits package.
  • 92% of the people who have retweeted this post have been inundated with new followers. In addition, McDonald’s automatically super-sizes all their meals for free.

The source for all these statistics? My ass.

So what are all these made up statistics by Instagram about? Why do they suddenly want to curate my feed for me?

Money, pure and simple.

The truth is, my Instagram feed has always been curated—by me.

I’m on a lot of social media and I jealously guard what shows up on my feed—those unsubscribe, unfollow, mute, and turn off retweets buttons exist for good reasons, and I don’t hesitate to make use of them. I am not an amateur in this particular rodeo.

But Instagam’s decision is not about my ability or inability to curate my own feed, nor is it about Instagram’s sudden desire to help me enjoy my feed even more.

Money. Remember, if you use Instagram, you’re not the user, you’re the product.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012. They’ve kept it free for “users” until now, but all that server space and bandwidth is not free. You’ve enjoyed the dance, now it’s time to pay the piper.

(FWIW: Facebook went to a curated feed in an effort to put more ads in front of more eyeballs. The amount of time I spend on Facebook per week can now be measured in nanoseconds.)

Twitter tried to go to a curated feed, but “user” (i.e. product) revolt caused them to reverse course on this decision. Instead they have opted for the odd “promoted tweet”, which I get to either ignore, click on, or dismiss as “too frequent”, “too offensive”, or “irrelevant. I love Twitter and I want it to succeed, so when promoted tweets are irrelevant, I let them know.

Let me be as clear as possible here: I love Twitter. I love what it brings to my life. (Mostly, that is—there’s a fair amount of asshattery on there as well.) I love the fact that I don’t have to pay for it.

Hence, when it comes to promoted tweets, I can deal.

(FWIW: It would be great if Twitter paid more attention to what I actually care about, however. Most of these promoted tweets are either irrelevant—I am no longer beholden to either infants or cats—or are offensive—I have no desire to do business with a bank that is too big to fail. If only Twitter had some way of figuring out what is actually on my mind…)

If Instagram were to adopt this model, I would have absolutely no issues with it. Because servers cost money, and bandwidth costs money, and while speech may be free, publication certainly isn’t.

Such a system would be open, honest, and clear to everyone involved. Instead, Instagram decided to go the other way.

You see, the point of a curated feed is that you are no longer in control.

Once you become accustomed to not being in charge, you are much less likely to notice when the odd promoted post slips into your time line. This is what Instagram is (apparently) banking on—that the line between what you want to see and what they want you to see will break down to the point where the two are one. You’re seeing a post promoting a prescription psoriasis medication because that’s what you chose to see.

I don’t mind people trying to sell me something. After all, as Robert Louis Stevenson pointed out, we all make our living by selling something, even if it’s only our attention. What I mind is people being tricky about it. Don’t lie to me about it. Don’t give me “70% of users this or that” or some other obvious out-of-your-ass statistic. Just be straight with me. “Do you like using this service? It costs money. We need to eat, too. Here, take a look at this ad.”

I get that. I understand that resources aren’t free (the infamous right-wing TNSTAAFL—I am so down with that) and that somebody has to pay for them.

Just don’t lie to me.

Don’t lie to me by saying that this is for my benefit. Don’t lie to me with fabricated numbers. Don’t lie to me by claiming to have the same chocolatey goodness you use to have, when you obviously don’t. Don’t say “we’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way” when you have no intention of even listening to, much less acting on, that feedback.

Just…don’t.

Except that you already have, haven’t you, Instagram?

Unlike other social media outlets you are deucedly difficult to get a hold of. You have a Twitter account, which is apparently run by an outgoing-only bot. You are owned by Facebook, yet you don’t respond to any comments there, either. Your web site provides no direct means of contacting you, which says everything a person needs to know about how much Instagram wants to hear from people. The only real way to contact you is to report a bug via your app, but what I want to report is not so much a bug as an incredibly asinine business decision.

Given that, I’m left with two options, one of which I’ve already exercised:

  1. Write this blog post.
  2. Delete my account.

I’ve done one of the two, but I’m seriously hoping that you will come to your sense before I feel the need to have one less set of login credentials not complicating my life.

The choice is yours, Instagram.

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