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Instagram Reaches For More Of TikTok’s Magic With A Change To Its Main Feed

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TikTok and Instagram logos are seen displayed on a phone screens in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on November 14, 2019. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Next to the familiar content from family and friends in Instagram’s main feed will now be something else: photos and videos from accounts you don’t already follow. The introduction of these algorithmically chosen “Suggested Posts” is a significant change to the app and a response to the technology that has allowed TikTok to establish itself as a surging rival.

Starting today, Instagram will include the Suggested Posts at the bottom of the Home feed, which users will reach only after scrolling through all the new content from the accounts they follow. Suggested Posts are picked based on what the app thinks interests you, and it gleans this from a number of factors, including analyzing what content you liked and shared and the accounts that you follow.

“So if you’re typically excited about specifics interests—like for me, food and interior design—you would hopefully see more content that would have loved to have seen,” says Instagram’s Robby Stein, the executive responsible for the new feature. “We saw an opportunity to actually help bring some of the best of Instagram to you…instead of relying entirely on you to find all of the best content on Instagram.”Recommended For You

This is a departure point for Instagram. Instagram’s Home feed, the app’s default starting point, has been a place only for content that you’ve knowingly told Instagram to put there. TikTok works in the opposite way. TikTok’s For You page is its starting point and displays content based entirely through an algorithm, surfacing content from accounts you don’t know and from ones that have interested you in the past.

TikTok’s For You page has enabled content to more easily go viral than on Instagram and for more influencers to amass bigger followings. It has become a beloved hallmark of TikTok: Users like it because they find more things. Influencers like having the greater shot at fame (and possibly the money that can follow with that).

By mimicking TiKTok, Instagram is indicating how far it’ll go to beat back its new competitor, including changes to core real estate on its app. Instagram displayed similar behavior earlier this month when it debuted its own short-form video editing function, Reels, a product meant to directly compete with TikTok. In the past, Instagram’s parent company Facebook FB +2.4% has been widely criticized for its copy-cat tendencies as have many other large tech companies.

For now, Suggested Posts is tucked away in an innocuous place on Instagram. It’s not clear whether many users regularly get to the bottom of their Home feeds. But Instagram says it will be refining Suggested Posts in the future and wouldn’t comment on whether these posts could later appear higher in a user’s feed or whether they might eventually include content from Reels.

Suggested Posts are similar to what Instagram already displays in its algorithmically driven Explore page. The company declined to give details about how the content selected for Suggested Posts will differ from what would already appear in Explore.

Instagram’s Home feed hasn’t been altered much in past years. In 2016, Instagram changed how it displayed posts, switching from chronologically displaying them to an algorithmic method that prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with the most. Before this, the Home tab was changed in 2013 when Instagram began including ads there.

TikTok’s future, of course, remains a mystery. President Trump has given its Chinese-based parent company, ByteDance, until November to sell off the app’s U.S. operations out of concerns that ByteDance may be improperly handling user data. ByteDance has maintained that it does not.

-Abram Brown, Forbes Staff

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