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Instagram’s horizontal swipe mess happened because everyone loves Stories so much

Instagram horizontal swipe

If the furor that erupted over Instagram’s botched test this week that inadvertently became a wider update of the app taught us anything, it’s this. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing service would presumably never admit this, but the interest in exploring a limited experiment of replacing the vertical scrolling feed with a horizontal, Stories-like progression of content is no accident. The introduction of Stories has been a resounding success for Instagram, for all the reasons that are evident — everything from their ephemerality to the creativity they unleash in users via everything from GIFs to stickers, music and more.

All of which is to say: In all likelihood we got a taste of Instagram’s future this week, and maybe even a hint at why the app’s co-founders left abruptly under a bit of a cloud a few months ago. It’s quite possible, in other words, that the feed’s days are numbered. And it’s thanks to the fact that we all apparently love Stories too much. Which is another way of saying, we love swiping horizontally through Stories too much.

It’s not like the company has been exactly secretive that the trend is heading in this direction. Back in April at Facebook’s F8 conference, for example, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox made the case about as clear as you can state it: “The Stories format,” he said at the time, “is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share stuff with their friends sometime next year.” Of course, that doesn’t happen by accident. For that to become true, Facebook also has to kind of nudge that trend along.

Lambast Instagram all you want, but it’s not an unreasonable notion to want to investigate and see whether making the navigational gestures within the product more uniform might spur users share more and actually use it more. Compared to now, where the product is really a couple of very different services within one app, with distinct ways to navigate them.

As a reminder, Instagram’s top executive Adam Mosseri, when asked about this week’s botched test on Twitter, sent out responses basically saying this was all a flub. It was supposed to be a small test that ended up going wide, and the company has since rolled it back.

The barrage of criticism Instagram got hit with via social media made me think about the way old people will sometimes grumble and complain when their local supermarket or a store they shop at regularly tweaks the layout and rearranges everything inside. Now they can’t find anything anymore. This sucks. But actually bothering to take that anger and go somewhere else new to shop entirely? Well, that of course is a whole other matter. They’ll be back, and so will you.

Andy Meek profile photo

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.