Over the holidays, Instagram users got a gift they never asked for and immediately demanded a refund. The popular, image-sharing social media network accidentally launched a new horizontal, tap-to-advance feed for the Instagram. The change generated an immediate backlash from Instagram users, and the company quickly switched everything back. Though things are back to normal at the moment, Instagram's testing error is probably a good indication of how the platform will look in the near future.
Instagram has been testing a horizontal, tap-to-advance interface since at least October. This type of interface is similar to what is used in Stories on Instagram. So rather than being something entirely new, it's more of an attempt to unify the user interface across Instagram. The uproar began when a bug in testing caused the new interface to appear on devices other than the ones intended for the test.
"Due to a bug, some users saw a change to the way their feed appears today. We quickly fixed the issue and feed is back to normal. We apologize for any confusion," an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch on December 27th, when the issue occured.
Even after the negative public backlash, Instagram has said they still plan to work on the new interface. When the interface they were testing accidentally replaced the scrolling feed for many users, the change was not well received.
According to Tweets from Instagram employees, the test was only meant to be shown to a small audience and that an error is what caused it to replace the scrolling feed for more users than intended. Testing mistakes like these aren't unheard of. Earlier in December, a Google trainee accidentally put a dummy ad into active rotation for 45 minutes, in an error that may have cost Google millions of dollars. So, it's fair to take Instagram at its word that the feed change was an accident.
This information may be provide little comfort for the people who hated the new tap-to-advance navigation. The new interface may not be launching now, but it is something Instagram is working on. And they are at the point in testing where a small number of everyday users are being allowed to used the new interface.
All of this means that Instagram's tap-to-advance interface for the Explore feed is less of a matter of "if" and more about "when". Like Facebook, Instagram is large enough that they can make major changes to their platform and still expect people to continue using it. The Instagram spokesperson who spoke with TechCrunch confirmed that the company was still testing the tap-to-advance feature for the Explore tab.
Instagram isn't testing out the tap-to-advance navigation just to make everybody angry. In fact, this new system has huge advantages for the business owners and marketers who use Instagram to reach their target audience. Scrolling feeds mean that the full post is only fully viewable for a second. Users can quickly scroll past things they want to skip and then stop to put a single post in view when they want to see the entire thing. Tap-to-advance lets (one might say forces) users go through each post, with the each post being fully in view before they next one is shown. For marketers and advertisers, this is great because it makes it harder for people to scroll past any post without seeing it.
Though tap-to-advance may be better for business owners and Instagram, it may be more annoying for users. As TechCrunch contributor Josh Constine noted, "But scrolling revealed the author of a post first, then the content, then the caption, which is a sensible and intuitive way to browse. Tap-to-advance could send users' eyes flitting around the screen in an exhausting manner. But most importantly, people have spent eight years growing accustomed to scrolling the Instagram feed. Suddenly breaking that behavior pattern was sure to piss people off."
It's also worth noting that any change to a social media platform is received angrily at first, but people eventually get used to it. Facebook has redesigned the look of the timeline and business pages on multiple occasions. And though it took a while, Twitter eventually expanded from 140 characters to 280 per Tweet. These changes were unpopular with a vocal portion of the user base at first, but in time, people got used to it. So, Instagram probably won't be deterred because an accidental launch made some people angry, social media networks expect some negative feedback to any change they make.
For more recent news about changes to social media platforms, read this article on how Twitter has brought back a chronological option for Twitter users who want to see the most recent Tweets first.