Last April, Roberto Forgione noticed that someone who had ghosted him was looking at his Instagram Stories – the brief, casual updates that hang around for 24 hours at the top of the app’s screen and include lists of the people who have seen them.
“After a couple, I was like, ‘He’s back,’” Mr. Forgione, 31, a photo producer in Brooklyn, said. He decided to take a chance and reach out in his direct messages. “I asked him if he wanted to hang out, and he said yes,” Mr. Forgione said. The two have continued seeing each other since, spending Thanksgiving together and attending a wedding as each other’s dates.
Anthea Fisher, 22, a project manager in finance, began a relationship on Instagram with someone she had known peripherally. “We liked each other’s stuff from time to time,” she said. “After my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, he started liking a lot of my stuff and watching all of my Stories. He would DM me, he would send me memes. And I sort of knew he was trying to get my attention.”
As of has more than 800 million users worldwide who engage with the app at least once a month. Of those, 300 million use Instagram Stories every day, according to a spokesperson for the company. Some of them use Instagram for their businesses; some for sharing photos of their kids; and some for distributing memes about hungover mornings and overeating. And then there are those who use Instagram as a supplemental match-making tool. “It’s basically a portfolio for your dating life,” said Halen Yau, 31, a public relations manager from Toronto.
Not only does Instagram provide a visually driven collage of your life, it also offers a subtle way of expressing interest through likes and comments, and connecting in the form of a private chat. Meanwhile, the lists of users who have looked at each of your Story cards mean that you now have data – rudimentary and inconclusive, but still, data! – on who exactly is obsessing over you today, tomorrow and yesterday.
Confused by the order of story views? Don’t worry. So is everyone else.
“The theory is that whoever are your biggest stalkers on Instagram are at the top,” Ms. Fisher said, referring to the lists of users who have looked at your Story. But that is just a theory. According to a spokesperson, the order is “based on a number of signals including people who recently viewed your story, accounts you interact with the most on Instagram, and more.”
The mystery has spawned endless ideas about the ranking of handles. In a thread on Reddit, users have documented experiments in which they altered various factors like how often they looked at a friend’s profile, or how often they liked photos on a profile, to see which ones had an effect on the order and which blendr ones did not. The goal for many was to figure out that all-consuming question: Does my crush like me as much as I like them?
Their experiments yielded mixed results, and Instagram will likely keep the algorithm under lock and key until the end of time. So, if you want to gauge interest anytime soon, we recommend a tried-and-true thermometer: the thirst trap.
Thirst traps: what they are and how to use them
“A thirst trap can be as simple as a selfie,” said Andrew Keller, 25, a creative strategist at Paper magazine. “I can put up a really cute selfie of me, and the caption can be, ‘Just ate a bag of Twizzlers, hate myself.’”