On the 27th of December 2018, social media platforms buzzed with panic as Instagram users reported a peculiar change in their news feed. Instead of the usual vertical scroll, an update from the Instagram team rolled out to the world – a horizontal feed that you tap through. As expected, there was a wide range of reactions, from mild annoyance to sheer rage. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, however, reassured users that the unannounced change of the app’s user interface was just an accidental test.
However, what does this mean for the future of social media and its user interface?
Reports have shown that Instagram has already been testing this new design for several months to improve user engagement instead of the “mindless scrolling” that users are experiencing now.
Mindless scrolling between posts has posed an enormous problem for Facebook, the parent company of Instagram. It was even reported that this issue had been something company executives told investors repeatedly that they wanted to address.
The first solution of Facebook’s software developers was to change their algorithm. This means there would be a change in the pace and type of content that would surface on a Facebook user’s feed. In their latest algorithm update, there would be fewer posts from brands and companies. News feeds will now focus more on posts from friends and family.
Now, we see a different approach to this issue – the horizontal swipe, and it’s not entirely a brand-new format. In fact, the “stories” format as popularised by Snapchat has been present years before this incident in December 2018. Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram then adopted this format. The “stories” feature allows users to browse through more content more quickly, as compared to the vertical scroll format. Additionally, YouTube has already rolled out this new feature in their platform, as well. Viewers can now swipe left or right to navigate between videos.
We may be seeing this new format roll out on most of our social media platforms soon. This horizontal swipe feature eliminates the need for long thumb strokes on your smartphone, which we know can be tiring after hours of scrolling through several social media platforms.
Furthermore, this format ensures that the users will always see a full-screen version of the photo or video rather than having to control your scrolling to adjust your view of an entire post. With these considerations in mind, the heads of these social media platforms believe that the horizontal swipe will create a more seamless and relaxing browsing experience for the users.
As evidenced by the accidental roll out of the horizontal swipe feature of Instagram, it seems like the social media world is not yet ready for a new format. However, it looks like this is the direction these platforms are heading to. App redesigns usually get an uproar of dismayed comments but eventually, users get used to the new format, given that they make sense for the user.
When we should expect these changes, we cannot tell. But we are fairly certain it’s a matter of when and not if.
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