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This is the beginning of the end for Instagram

June 30th, 2021 at 8:53 PM
New Instagram update

Heads up, Instagram fans. Adam Mosseri, who leads the Facebook-owned social media app, shared a video with his followers on Wednesday that basically amounted to a new Instagram update — albeit a high-level, advance look at what’s to come. In short, the app you know and love is about to start trying some radically different things. Like showing full-screen recommended videos in user feeds. Even as the app doubles down on existing features that are ancillary to its core functionality, like shopping.

“We’re no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app,” Mosseri says at one point in his video message. A consequence, of course, of the insurgent threat from rival apps like TikTok, shared clips from which often flood Instagram users’ feeds. Accordingly, Instagram plans to experiment “with how do we embrace video more broadly,” Mosseri said. “Full screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video. You’ll see us do a number of things, or experiment with a number of things in this space over the coming months.”

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New Instagram update

If it all sounds a little like the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that characterized Facebook’s growth, well, it should.

Facebook, of course, started out focused on status updates. From there, it grew into a ravenous amoeba blob. Absorbing any new feature it could and shoehorning that into the product, smooth fit or no. Facebook’s hamburger menu over on the side, for example, is still overflowing with options and tabs that the average user never touches. Nevertheless, Mosseri and the rest of the Instagram team want to stuff as many ancillary features as they can into Instagram. To keep users tucked inside, of course. So that they’re not leaving and opening up something else, like the TikTok app.

“Let’s be honest,” Mosseri continued. “There’s some really serious competition right now. TikTok is huge, YouTube is even bigger, and there’s lots of other upstarts as well.” Time was, you mostly used the app to take a photo. You applied filters to it, and shared the result with friends. Now, Instagram wants a big bite of the same apple that Snapchat and TikTok, among others, are nibbling at.

Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging

Take a look at Mosseri’s Instagram update above. For “normal” users, 50% of those new categories where Instagram is most focused right now don’t really apply to them. Most people are firing off short-burst Stories, and maybe experimenting with Reels, within the Instagram app. And possibly using IGTV to go live. And messaging, sure, but who needs another messaging service in their life right now? Between iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and the like, that area is pretty saturated. But sure, maybe more stickers and fun features will make Instagram Messages a stickier place to hang out.

The cynic might look at all this and feel like we’re witnessing the same thing that happened to Facebook. Too much focus on boxing out the competition, to dubious effect. Instagram, for example, launched Reels in August of 2020 as a kind of TikTok knockoff. But, as we noted above, your own Instagram feed is probably still plenty full of TikToks. So not much anecdotal slowdown there, in other words.

More worryingly, Piper Sandler’s spring 2021 survey quizzed teens on their favorite social media apps. Snapchat was the winner (with 31% of the vote), followed by TikTok with 30%. Instagram trailed both of those, at 24%.

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Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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