The current Instagram algorithm, or monkeys and microscopes again

Sunday, 28 March, Year 13 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

The unexamined idea of "social media" goes something along the lines of profiles-and-feeds, with some evolution over time from the purely-profiles era of Myspacei towards the more social-proofy "current times", where the accent's moved off the profile itself to some discussionii of the feed consumption and implied (if mostly absent) consumers. You know what I mean exactly, I'm sure : "you"iii make a profile, then "other people"iv "follow" it and there's a count somewhere and whenever you push a new piece of "content" it goes into their feed (ie, intake queue) which they happily ignore and there we go, how many followers do you have ? There was some indescript "film" of the Netflix tv"films" era where some bitch was whining at some other bitch that she didn't like her wedding, to which the bitch protested that she did like it, she just said so, and the first bitch came back with something like "bitch, you didn't push the little like button, is what I'm talking about". That, basically (or otherwise everywhichway-ly).

Well, none of that applies anymore. You see, at some point circa 2016 (which coincidentally is the last time I even gave a gander in the general direction of this pile of sadness) they changed it all. The way it works nowv is something out of a mad scientist's fantasy. Check this out :

  • Firstly, images are machine-tagged. The technology behind machine tagging images was pretty decent by the time the new millennium was rolling around, not great but promising. In the intervening two decades it progressed immensely, and while no machine is capable of producing expert commentary (or ever will), nevertheless any machine is capable of producing better tags much faster than the average "relationship expert". They're reliable, dependable and statistically relevant, which is what we're talking about anyway.
  • Secondly, a relational database is maintained, between every account and every tag, such that for a "new" image a prediction score can be calculated for any account that ever interacted with any picture sharing any tag. If profile-n liked 3 cat-tagged pictures and commented on 2 fdhkjhdf-tagged picturesvi then one can "predict" (after a fashion) that the next cat-tagged picture is more likely to be liked than commented upon by profile-n. Simple enough, and there you go, the sparse matrix at the core of a certain approach. The one that "won".
  • Thirdly, another relational database is maintained, this time between the profiles. Whenever profile-q interacts in any way with profile-q (or even when profile-r reports an interaction between the two), the vectorvii changes slightly.
  • Therefore, given the foregoing, "social media" (in the sense of, the engine underneath) can be organised as... a bidding market! Instagramviii now revolves around two queues (inputs and outputs), and their matching by bids! The inputs are whatever anyone publishes ; the outputs are whenever someone asks for a feed. The implicit bids a user makes when asking for a feed are equal to an interpretation of the matrix of his interactions to dateix, whereas the value of the inputs is always... zero! That's right, the image-auction-market facebook has built enjoys this excellent quality over any other auction market ever, that it can deliver an infinity of whichever object.x Everyone bidding over X gets it, and X is the foremost value in the modern worldxi, the premiere not to mention principal anthropometric measure of humanity as such (if you agree ESLtards are related to humanity, a point on which we likely disagree).

So, to belabour the point : the fact that "you" "have" so-and-so many followers doesn't anylonger mean anything. It doesn't mean "here's a list of people who opted in to your spam blasts, and you've not managed to shake off yet". It no longer means "here's the count of people who don't read what you put out in spite of claiming so, which is the only quality that distinguishes them from everyone else not reading what you push out". It sure as fucksticks doesn't mean "every item you publish will be pushed to the top of the consumption feeds of this many breathers". Instead, it maybe means something like "this is the sample Instagram might opt to run your material by, see what they say".

They likely won't, though, because they have no interest to. Instagram really isn't interested in producing teenage celebrities. They're not in the business rising random idiots into a spotlight they can't sustain (nor, properly speaking, want or know what to do with). Our problems are entirely of our making, and we never actually figured out how to solve them ; the enemy is readily excused for not replicating what's self-obviously a mistake, gross and unfixable.

Instead, Instagram is interested in two main things : flattening the social graph, and de-skilling the population. The first is readily achieved by sample equalization : if instead of the "natural" case, wherein the guy with ten million followers getting ten million spamlottery tickets whereas the guy with one hundred gets ~0 lottery tickets the actual case can be brought closer to their getting something more in the vein of Stallman's socialism, say 1000:1 (or even 183:1), then all the better. It's "fairer" that way, meaning there's no danger of leadership arising among the herd naturally. From the graph flatness perspective the ideal case for facebook is where there's no power lawsxii, and everyone's within one sigma of the average. God knows that's exactly how we selected the cows, sheep etcetera over the millennia of cohabitation to date ; and the approach readily links into deskilling.

If one needn't bother with any considerations about the content -- seeing how indeed he needn't, Instagram will do all the marketing heavy lifting, expending a lot of very fine engineering, not to mention a lot of sheer, shiny computing power to do itxiii -- then one is free to... well, what exactly ? What did the white goods revolution free the womanfolk to do ? God knows they ain't got any better at cooking for having fridges, blenders and microwave ovens. Did they ? Nor is the horde of phone-cluckers going to be half as good at social media as the previous (smallerxiv) horde of tumblr&flickrtards. Heck, back in the days of myspace the average twelve year old girly was forced to learn some basic html, willy-nilly. None of that, right ? Not anymore, anyways, it's... not conducive to peacible co-habitation.

Cohabitation between whom and what, anyways ? Really, the what's not interesting. Who ?xv

  1. That thing Turner bought for a billion and then spun off for ten million less than a decade later. Speaking of which, you know what gets no airplay ? []
  2. Universally a very pedestrian (not to mention plainly not credible) discussion. []
  3. Not I, as it happens, but that doesn't stop anyone, I'm sure.

    There's so many "Mircea Popescu" out there to pretend like they're somebody there's positively never gonna be a shortage among the "offerings" of last-ditch socialism. They're always gonna "have one", and not just that, but everything else. There's gonna be "experts", too -- Bitcoin*, ERP, anything you wish -- to paper over the complete dearth of anything even remotely like competence, general and unyielding, let alone expertise in any form or, more generally speaking, anything whatsoever desirable to the faintest degree. They're gonna have "doctors" (just no useful** medicine) and "consultants" (of that regrettable type) and "relationship experts" (just no relationships) and "everything else you might want" (just as soon as you figure you want it, which they'll be sure to tell you).

    There's gonna be imaginary restaurants somewhere, just nowhere you can get to. Somewhere in the fantasy, somewhere in the shimmering distance, right over there, past the Tricatel building and keep going. It's there, hoovering over an imaginary horizon. Just like the "too many parties" in Argentina except nobody can actually point to one at any given moment, and so on. And so forth. And tehnica navigatiei cu botnita.

    It's quite plain & clear how socialism works out in practice (though, of course, "not to you"). I... well, truly, I heard that before. It's been done to (literal) death already, really it has. In consequence I'm neither more satisfiable on the topic than I'm already satisfied nor capable of being further surprised ; whereas you...
    * What, Tjucker Max ain't exactly anyone's idea of "a cryptocurrency expert" ?! But... why not ?! He was such a great whatever-the-fuck-he-was-before expert before! Hollywood producer I think it was, or maybe drunk, I don't remember nor can you distinguish. Why can't he be recycled into "satisfying" whatever other "need" ? Who's to say he can't be "one" ? THE ONE ? #occupyblackstreet!!!
    ** Let me explain to you what useful means in this (as any other) context : when the bimbo*** had some health complaint a coupla weeks ago, we (meaning, my other slave) took her to the doctor, who took one look at her, told her what's going on, what caused it, what to do. Done in twenty minutes. Can you replicate that ? And no, it's not one case, it's every case. When I visited with a doctor half year ago, the same exact thing played out, and the time before that also. Every time. Can you replicate that ? Or do you have to "run some tests" and "they're not sure" and so on ? Which is it ? Do you understand that the list of issues that girl came in with is pretty much gone ? A lengthy list it was, and thoroughly made up, out of sheer imaginarium, to cater to the very real needs of an imaginary system trying to support itself.
    *** You remember the unicorn, yes ? You know, that thing that "doesn't exist". Right ? Well... not for you. Not for the "beautiful" you. Not in your system, see ? Back in the old days, back before the Hungarian... "revolution", let's call it, back before Stephen Szára came up with the idea of calling himself Stephen (check it out by the way, English tardpedia ain't got no clue what his name was before that, while Hungarian tardpedia ain't even heard of him in the first place -- go tards go!), LSD didn't exist (for him). Very similar reasons, you know, he lived in an imaginary system just like you (rather, you live in an imaginary system copied after his) and Sandoz didn't approve. []

  4. By which we mean -- other profiles. Notice perhaps the inflation? Yes, it's absolutely necessary, because of the nonsense cockroaches in your head. []
  5. And Instagram is the best possible case study to discuss it, because images are intrinsically meaningless (just as language is, but nobody goes around pretending they're capable of "plain reading" images, you know ?). []
  6. No, it really doesn't matter what the tags "are", nor "are" they anything. The meaning-in-nature delusion is strong with humans, but it fucking stays delusion. []
  7. It's a time vector, that resolves to a scalar whenever given a time interval as a parameter. []
  8. Like facebook, and like everything else worth the mention. []
  9. Very much like how "particles" work in quantum mechanics -- they don't exist as such until someone comes asking ; before that they're merely fields of probability and wave functions etcetera. []
  10. This is called "going viral" from the other point of view, and it is a highly desirable outcome, because... well ? Up is down etcetera, the inverted value scale of socialism. []
  11. In practice it comes in the shape of a views/interactions ratio, which is to say "how many times did Instagram push it into a feed" versus "how many times someone liked/commented/whatever". If profile-q interacts 0.35% with cat-tags and 0.44% with profile-r material, whereas the average rate is 0.33% and 0.22%, then the next item profile-q puts out that's either cat-tagged or not will be displayed for profile-r. Regarding the matter in reverse, if out of 1`000 "views" profile-r clicks like on cat-tagged pictures 35 times, whereas...

    Instagram will simply keep pushing until everything averages out, which is another way to say forever ; and nobody in his right mind can claim this system isn't giving "people" exactly what they want. Not what they need, of course ; but... []

  12. There is, measuredly and for certain, absolutely no useful difference between the top 10 accounts with hundreds of millions of alleged followers and the top 25`000 accounts, with mere millions of similarily notional followers. The only reason Rihanna gets 100`000`000 whereas my recent fan gets 1`000`000 is that... wait for it... Rihanna's a name most newly created spambots follow to "make it look real". That's it, the 99 million difference's entirely coincidental, measuring error driven by the measuring apparatus.

    Here, have a laugh, if you didn't have enough already :


    What, you thought these are always farmed out (to "relationship experts" in some office somewhere*) because... because what, lol. What was your own explanation, made for yourself ?
    * I thought I had a piece somewhere immortalizing some office chickie's (maybe that Anjie Castillo, I thought ?) self-reported adventures through the 20something desert, whereby they had "everything" at the office so she kept a "secret" flavour of some mass-produced "snack" (doritos, maybe ?) at "home" to... have some reason to ever go there. To make home feel different. But then the office started carrying it, and well...

    Needless to say I can't find it, or even remember anything useful, besides the pattern. Which... []

  13. Very fairly and properly put that's exactly their instant proposition : for every piece of content you publish, we'll do not just our best, but objectively the best possible effort anyone on the market could do, to market it to as many people as we can find that we have the faintest reason to suspect might have the faintest interest in seeing it.

    Sounds good enough, doesn't it ? Good enough not to mention eminently fair, and all the rest of the propaganda hot buttons in your head. The fine print's that "we'll also do the exact same for everyone else, meaning you're getting a whole lot of 'everything' that's all 0s", because, again, I don't hire a lawyer to do "the standard of lawyering", I hire him to murder the competition, nothing else interests me. The deskilling's right in there, too : if you don't let the cripples die, why... they reproduce! []

  14. The considerations of size bear some discussion. Instagram is oft quoted claiming (without any verification, apparently journalism no longer applies or something) very large user counts. Such claims are not merely "just as baseless as in general", they're significantly less credible in the particular case of facebook and friends because of the particular way in which they function : sample equalization on one hand means new accounts are significantly over-sampled and over-represented ; the lack of knowledge (of the type the system relies on) means there's an epsilon threshold where robots can't be distinguished from their meat-emulated exact equivalent. Consequently most Instagram interaction consists of spam comments left by disposable accounts, that only ever live briefly to shoot four-five such and go away. If in the case of the old "social media" a 90% padding of the user counts was my best guess, I'd be surprised if it were in fact as low as 99.9% in the case of Instagram. Meaning, if they actually have ten million genuine users it'd be a wonder.

    Yes, I'm aware of the "everyone I know" argument. You don't know very many people. []

  15. You're not going to like the answer (and "conspiracy theories" are just a symptom of the horrror), but it truly is nobody.

    Zece membri de partid visau viaţă nouă. Unul a vorbit în vis, şi-au rămas doar nouă.
    Nouă membri de partid s-au copt de marxism! Unul s-a răscopt din ei, şi-au rămas doar opt!
    Opt membri de partid au trecut la fapte... Un' mai breaz s-a dus la Broz, şi-au rămas doar şapte.
    Şapte membri de partid fac afaceri grase. Unul a intrat la zdup, şi-au rămas doar sase.
    Sase membri de partid au strigat lozinci. Unul a strigat greşit... şi-au rămas doar cinci.
    Cinci membri de partid priveau ca la teatru. Unul n-a aplaudat, şi-au rămas doar patru!
    Patru membri de partid erau toţi evrei. Unul s-a dus în Ereţ, şi-au rămas doar trei!
    Trei membri de partid vorbeau de război. Unul şi-amintea prea mult, şi-au rămas doar doi!
    Doi membri de partid, mîndri ca un soare. Unul a înnebunit, şi-a rămas doar unul!
    Un membru de partid, cel mai preaslavit, a plecat cu ONT-ul şi n-a mai venit!
    Zero membri de partid luptă pentru pace, că partidul nostru drag ştie el ce face!


Category: Meta psihoza
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4 Responses

  1. Re footnote 12: you were thinking of the Elaine Ou woman, who'd've seemed "different" enough to me on the first pass, or at least, until I finished digesting this piece. ;)

    As for interesting processes uselessly deployed, I wonder what their system could do that'd serve something other than innate ovine desire for safe and comfortable publicity/discovery (those oughta be in quotation marks too, but my poor pinky gets tired sometimes, what can I do). I mean, besides bacteriophage dating.

    Kudos for carrying artifacts in from the muck.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 28 March 2021

    A wow, you're exactly right! Tyvm.

    I think the problem's with trying "to serve people" in general. Back when people served their clans human society was actually worth the trouble.

    Basically a global notion of humanity is strictly incompatible with the perdurance of humanity in a global sense.

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