Instagram: How not to do messaging

Though Facebook is really good at a few things -- being a rage amplifier; providing a clean, well-lit space for fascists; and allowing unmedicated schizophrenics to find each other and thereby elevate their delusions into national movements -- it's important to remember that they are actually stultifyingly incompetent at just about everything that comprises what most people think their business is.

Sadly, my businesses still have a presence on Facebook and Instagram because choosing not to use those services essentially means choosing not to advertise, and that's not really a stand we can afford to take during this pandemic apocalypse.

And since I still have to manage this shitshow, here's me pissing in the wind again about how terrible it is to try and actualy use it.

I've written before about the mind-boggling unusability of Instagram's inbox-management for business accounts: that the messages are partitioned into four different places with four different interfaces with no rhyme or reason. It's just unfathomable how anyone is able to communicate with their customers through this disaster. [Narrator: "They cannot. They mostly don't try."]

Well, a couple years ago, Facebook integrated Instagram into this "Facebook Inbox For Business Suits" thing or whatever they're calling it today. In theory, now you can use a Facebook web page instead of the postage-stamp-sized Instagram app to manage your messages while typing with your thumbs like an animal.

Take a look at the image to the right. Zoom in. Let the hate wash over you. I'll wait.

  • First indignity: you have to make the window be basically full screen width or none of those icons on the right show up, because it's got 3 different sidebars (not shown). And even then, sometimes the message author's profile picture appears on top of the buttons, making them unclickable.

  • The "All Messages" tab is not all messages. So the very first words on the page are already a lie. You still have to click through to the four other tabs to see everything.

  • When it shows you an Instagram "story", you almost never get to actually see it. Stories usually expire after 24 hours, but I look at this page once a day and I can't remember the last time a story actually showed up as something other than a broken-image box.

  • When it does actually show you the contents of an Instagram story or post, it is 240 pixels wide. You can't resize it. You can't click on it to open it in a new window. You can't copy its URL. Hope your eyesight is good!

  • When it shows you Facebook messages or replies, it doesn't show you the actual message. It shows you the post on which the messages were made. And it is always set to "Most relevant comments", meaning it's showing you the top-rated 5-of-30 or whatever, in bogosort-order. Because that's what you want to see in your "Facebook Connect Businessy Direct Comments Suite". Not the most recent message, but one that was popular two weeks ago.

  • There is no "mark all read" button. You have a thousand messages in the list, but a couple of them, 700+ messages ago, are marked as unread, making the unread count up top useless? Congratulations, you get to click a thousand times to clear that. Also, the position of the "delete" button changes every time. Sometimes those 5 buttons are horizontal, but sometimes they wrap to 2 or more lines, depending on... I don't even know what. (See "Facebook Cow Clicker".)

  • Once you have deleted a message, it is gone forever. There is no Trash folder. The message itself exists, and everyone can still see it, you just have no way to navigate back to it from "Facebook Presents Inbox by Marc Jacobs" or whatever this is.

  • That "Exclamation point" button means "Mark as spam". As far as I can tell, it's the same as Trash. It does not even move it to a spam folder, because as I said, folders aren't a thing. There is no Spam folder, nor a Trash folder, not an Archive folder. And it absolutely for sure does not report the message as spam. It's just a handy busy-box for you to click that does nothing, like calling 311 about a blocked bike lane.

  • Is there a way to report abusive Instagram messages? Sure there is, there's a "Report" item hidden on a dot-dot-dot popup menu in the "User" sidebar! That takes you to a FAQ telling you to run the Instagram app on your phone, find the message again (good luck with that), and report it from there.

  • If it's a Facebook comment, there are context menus for blocking and reporting, that work completely differently. What you want is a button that means "report this abusive asshole and make them go away forever". What you get is three different paths to report comments, delete comments, and block users, which take like 14 clicks,

    "This web page is using significant energy. Closing it may improve the responsiveness of your Mac."
    and if you miss one step, some or all of those things don't happen. Also it's entirely possible that "block" means "don't show this person's abuse to me personally, but do continue showing them to everyone else who looks at my business page." After all these years, I still have no idea.

  • My business account manages multiple Facebook and Instagram pages. Do messages to all of them show up in the same place? Hahahahahahahaha no. Each one gets its own separate "Instagram By Facebook Inbox Business Message Console Business" page.

  • Oh yeah, those red message count badges at the top? They never change as messages are read or tabs are changed. I mean, that sounds too hard, right?

One might hope that this incompetence indicates that they simply don't have employees who know what they're doing, and one might dream that maybe that's because Facebook is just too embarassing a place for the competent to work. Maybe the people capable of getting jobs elsewhere took my advice and quit. But that's wishful thinking. Ethics are not correlated with programming skill. It's just that they don't give a shit. Tools to allow businesses to use Facebook to intermediate communication with those businesses' customers are not a priority. As a rational, sane person, the things that you expect are part of Facebook's business are not. If you think you are their customer, or even that your customers are their customers, you are wrong.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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19 Responses:

  1. Lloyd says:

    Lets put in a word for LinkedIn messaging, which emails you to tell you you have a message, and invites you to log in to their website to be able to read it. As opposed to, you know, emailing it to you. Because either security, or site traffic and engagement.

    Couple this with someone using messaging like chat, at half a sentence per line, and it's... quite irritating.

  2. Doctor Memory says:

    I especially love how the unread count on the "All Message" tab is somehow not the sum of the unread counts on all of the source-specific tabs. Where did the extra message come from? The call is coming from inside the house!

  3. Pakraticus says:

    My condolences on having a customer base that consumes ads from Facebook and Instagram. Facebook Marketplace attracts cretins that make the Craigslist idiots look awesome. However, duck and goose eggs are a different customer base than folks that go to nightclubs...

  4. thielges says:

    Gone are the days when the purpose of a UI was to provide easy and clear access to information and functionality. Instead today’s UIs are designed to more effectively extract information from the user. And as better and better harvesting techniques are developed the UI will become a more complex maze for us rats to navigate.

    • jwz says:

      See, this is exactly wrong. You are assuming that they are Very Smart and that they did this On Purpose. That's absolutely false. There is no benefit to them to make it so difficult for me, someone who pays Facebook money, to better "engage" with my customers through their web sites. It's actually worse for them. Clearly it's not worse for them on any metric that they actually care about, but making this UI so bad is not some sinister extractive plot.

      • haltiamreptar says:

        Can you pay them more money to do it for you? If so evil is back on the table.

      • thielges says:

        I was thinking part of the issue is diversion of talent away from UX and towards info harvesting, but failed to mention that in my statement above. So priority induced incompetence?

        And there are plenty of user facing features that are significantly more complex (thus creating more bug opportunities), implemented for the sake of extracting more info from users: img beacons, excessive pagination, infinite scroll, deferred loading, click here to continue reading ....

      • Thomas Lord says:

        I think you might consider whether (or perhaps recognize the fact that) the degree of incompetence of the rank and file coders that shape your experience is very much an executive plot. These firms build these applications through semi-automated learning algorithms using low-competence hackers as computing nodes. That is why they tend to have siloed and competing teams working redundantly in the same [mis-]feature space, doing experimental, limited audience roll-outs and a/b testing: it's searching the game tree of what low-competence teams code to see what sticks.

        Why such an elaborate reliance on low-competence rank and file? My guess: you didn't merely run away from valley industry, it ran away from people like you.

        Does this shit work for them? Ask their asset portfolios. Ask their pet politicians, their drug dealers, their sex traffickers and so on. The valley capitalists are mostly fascinated by how unfathomably rich this has made them, and how there are no economic limits to their personal consumption and political power.

        Humans have a bug. They are easy to manipulate using a complicated enough "busy-box" like the modern web. Root cause problems here have to include javascript and css tied to web pages and browsers that don't guide users to be extremely selective about installing 3rd party CSS and javascript apps.

        A real, basic, potentially incredibly useful and lasting hypertext web was sidetracked already by the first dot-com boom. It got killed by browser developers in the rush to enable the dot-com boom and in the fantasy of replacing MSFT desktops with browsers.

    • Carlos says:

      I have to vote with jwz on this one. This kind of complete fuckmuppetry is absolutely, completely explainable by incompetence (well, and apathy). Malevolent intent is not required.

      My telco - not a huge one, but extremely well-funded as they had a government-granted monopoly for 80+ years - is absolutely and completely incapable of building a usable website. To get support or view my account requires minutes of waiting for a page to load, not helped by each page having dozens of Java servlets on the backend...

      C.

      • Eric TF Bat says:

        Facebook has been failing to open comments on threads on my wall or display any comments on photos for ages - months at least. If we assume that the company's main goal is engagement, ie getting people to interact so it can gauge their interest in a topic and use it to target ads at them, then not showing comments is clearly counter-evolutionary. If we assume its main goal is to encourage anger at other others (as distinct from anger at the company), then ditto. It looks like there's some failure to test one of the far-flung third-party CDNs serving up some minor bit of JavaScript, if the errors in the Dev Console are reliable. No fucks given, though, and I really have to assume incompetence on the part of the few remaining FB programmers.

  5. Dude says:

    One of my regular e-mails is still Comcast, something I'll be happy to get rid of when I can. Despite being the biggest telecom in the world and a clear threat to democracy (every jokes about Disney wanting to buy every book in the library, but Comcast/Universal and their anti-net-neutrality billion$ wants every other book, plus the library itself, plus the only road that allows access to the library), the company constantly skimps out on fixing basic UI/UX bugs.

    Hell, mornings like this one were one of the many where it took me forever just to log in because Comcast changed something so now it can't (automatically) get past the safety measures in my browser. For Christ's sake, the company's official website is only HTTP, not HTTPS, and detecting the former will sometimes (like this morning) make my browser and add-ons tell me the equivalent of "No, I'm not letting you got to this obviously-malware site."

    I don't know if it's "better" or worse than Google. I only keep a Google account for YouTube (which my browser and add-ons let slide, despite marking it as lacking any security) and have only had temporary Gmail accounts for freelance jobs that required it (fuckin' Masterclass). Everything said above about Instagram messaging is true of Gmail and YouTube comments (for which blocking just blocks them from your notices, they can continue to abuse at will). It makes me all the more grateful that I deleted my FB years ago.

    TL;DR: Don'tcha just love libertarians telling you these conglomerates got big by "being the best" rather than buying out their better competition? I know I feel better knowing that online advertising is illegally controlled by the FB/Google duopoly. Go Underpants Gnomes!

  6. wkrick says:

    Thank you for introducing me to the term bogosort. I've been a software developer for 25+ years and somehow I've never stumbled across it.

    • Eric TF Bat says:

      I refer you for entertainment to The Jargon File. Hold your nose when you see that (a) the guy that runs it is a libertarian gun nut with a bad mustache, (b) he doesn't understand the basics of Unicode that Joel Spolsky explained twenty years ago to everyone's satisfaction, and (c) the colour scheme is crapulent. It's culture!

  7. Jeremy Wilson says:

    The two hardest things in computer science is cache invalidation and making fucking notification badge counts accurate.

    Or I just work with idiots, which is a distinct possibility.

  8. prefetch says:

    Is the 'delete' button constantly named/positioned after redrawing? A js cmdlet with some combination of getElementBy*()|querySelector*()|evaluate(), click() and setInterval() would give you a one-click 'mark all as read' if so. (Thankfully not in that ecosystem, so can't investigate.)

    • joe luser says:

      which of course demonstrates the fundamental point at hand here: it is trivial to get this right for anyone who actually wants to get this right

  9. Anonymous says:

    That takes you to a FAQ telling you to run the Instagram app on your phone

    Goddamn, this is a terrible trend. It's as if we don't have some sort of world-wide system for information management conceived for heterogeneous systems and that allows you to reference content by name.

  10. Anonymous says:

    They never change as messages are read or tabs are changed. I mean, that sounds too hard, right?

    That Facebook considers that too hard is literally the reason why their flagship framework that performs an end-run around intrinsic browser features was created—and why, since then, every other site is shooting a megabyte or more of obfuscated JS down the tubes when you visit, because they feel they have to play Follow The Leader, and it's totally normal that to build a web page you should run $PACKAGEMANAGER install so half a gigabyte (literally) of busted third-party library code can be sucked down onto your developer machine before you create a Hello-World "app" for the browser (again, literally). But, hey, it's reactive!

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