Instagram is giving up on what made it so popular

Chris Davies - Jul 1, 2021, 2:05pm CDT
Instagram is giving up on what made it so popular

Instagram is chasing TikTok and YouTube into video, with platform chief Adam Mosseri arguing that it’s “no longer a photo sharing app” despite how it may have started out. Taking a backseat will be the photos and traditional feeds that helped make Instagram so popular – culminating in its acquisition by Facebook – with things like full-screen video and more recommendations coming.

It’s in reaction to what Mosseri claims is feedback from users as to what, exactly, they want from the app. “The number one reason people say that they use Instagram in research is to be entertained,” he suggests. “So people are looking to us for that.”

The result is that Instagram is “no longer a photo sharing app or a square photo sharing app,” the Head of Instagram insists. Instead he sees the app’s competition as being TikTok and YouTube, along with other video-sharing sites and services. That basically means, if you were hoping Instagram wouldn’t follow rivals in chasing viral content and would instead just let you see what your friends and family have been doing, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

“So what you’re going to see over the next couple months really is us start to experiment more in the space of what we call recommendations, to showing you things in Feed that you may not be following yet,” Mosseri explains. “We just started testing an early version of this last week; this week is a new version that’s coming out, with topics where you can say which topics you want to see more of, or less of.”

In short, think beyond just what people you know are posting, and instead what the algorithm thinks you should be watching. According to Mosseri, “we’re also going to be experimenting with how do we embrace video more broadly: full-screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video.”

How well that might go down with users remains to be seen. Instagram already has Reels, its short-form video section, and of course video clips are supported in the regular Feed timeline, and in Instagram Stories. You could readily argue, in fact, that Instagram currently has more places for video than it does for the still photos on which it built its brand.

Then again, photos arguably don’t give as much opportunity for monetization. Instagram Reels ads were added in June, slotting promotional content in among the short video clips. The app has also been trying to make itself stickier, and increase the amount of time users spend in it, by launching Clubhouse-copy Instagram Live Rooms.

Certainly, the success of TikTok can’t be denied. Nonetheless whether Instagram users want their photo and video sharing app to morph into a TikTok alternative is the big question, and while Mosseri says the research points to the answer being yes, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a Facebook product has tried to evolve in a direction more amenable for Facebook’s bottom line than the requirements of the people actually using it.


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