May The Feed Be With You: how algorithmic feeds create the best content experience for users

Social Media Balance

In September 2015, as Instagram had just crossed over 400 million monthly users and surpassed Twitter’s audience, I remember having lunch with an early employee and congratulating his success. To my surprise, my friend wasn’t in a celebratory mood and instead complained how Instagram’s product was better a few years ago than it was right then. I asked him to elaborate:

The Evolution Of The Feed

When Facebook first launched the News Feed on September 6, 2006, people took note. Over a million people joined protest and boycott groups to pressure Facebook to rollback the feature, before it would eventually go on to become one of the most used products ever invented and the standard for social media UI. In October 2009, Facebook introduced a change to their News Feed that few people noticed even though its impact has been arguably just as profound. That change was the introduction of algorithmic sorting of content.

The original design of the News Feed
Twitter’s algorithmic timeline

The Universal Feed

In the past 6 years, there have been numerous reports of Facebook and Instagram users sharing posts less often, with certain forms of sharing declining more than 15% year over year. Fewer posts means less content for algorithms to pick and choose through, which makes it harder to give users the right content at the right time. When users stop posting, gramming, and tweeting, an imbalance is created in the system that even the mighty algorithmic feed can struggle to solve. That’s why TikTok changed the very fundamentals of the feed.

TikTok For You universal feed

This Is The Way

On May 31, 2022, the Supreme Court granted an emergency stay request that stopped controversial Texas state law HB 20 from going into effect. Texas legislators had drafted HB 20 to severely limit how social media sites can moderate their platforms. Had the law been allowed to stand, it would have become illegal for any social media platform with more than 50 million monthly users to “block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression”.

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Eric Feng

Eric Feng

7.2K Followers

Current: Co-founder of @cymbalxyz, Co-founder of @GoldHouseCo Ventures. Past: @Meta (via Packagd), GP at @KleinerPerkins, and CTO of @Hulu and @Flipboard.