Instagram Prioritizes Reels Above All Else in an Attempt to Catch Up to TikTok

Sarah Frier and Brad Stone, Bloomberg:

A company as big as Meta, with 3.6 billion users across Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, has lots of ways to push features on people. Reels now appear in every Instagram user’s feed. Once someone clicks on a Reel, they’re suddenly in a full-screen mode where swiping up or down only gets you to more Reels. This design tweak can be jarring, like turning a corner in a quiet art gallery and finding yourself in the middle of a dance party.

Instagram is planning to take it further, testing a redesign that starts users in full-screen, TikTok-style video mode when they open the app. For Facebook’s lifeline to the youth demographic, this is a major departure. Instagram became a generation’s go-to social app on the strength of its filtered, aspirational lifestyle photography. Now the company is actively killing that identity in the name of beating TikTok, and it might not even work.

I know a couple of people who have been opted into this redesigned feed and it has been a negative experience all around. For anyone posting anything other than Reels, the gradient overlay gets in the way.

Facebook seems to treat Instagram as a hollow shell into which they can jam any app idea they would like to duplicate. That makes it unlike any other social network. Facebook itself, YouTube, Twitter — all of these properties have each retained their core idea while adding new features. But Instagram is jettisoning the way people actually use it in favour of jamming through this embarrassing identity crisis.

Frier and Stone:

TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance Ltd., is the most-downloaded app in the world. Starting in 2020, Americans spent more time on TikTok than they did on Facebook or Instagram. This year, the app is expected to overtake YouTube. TikTok, which declined to comment on its competition with Reels, instead sent details on its own creator payment program.

TikTok’s growth has been nothing short of extraordinary, with some blame or credit given to existing tech company dominance. TikTok saturated YouTube and Facebook’s platforms with advertising just a couple of years ago, and changing behaviour during the pandemic accelerated its growth path.

If you are someone who is worried about the world’s biggest social media sensation reporting back to an authoritarian surveillance state, you should know that virtually nothing has changed. Every ad network has involvement by shady characters and they have all been privacy hellscapes in their own way. Better polices on privacy and data protection would help. Lawmakers should have been quicker to take action many years ago, but whether numbed by access or the assumption that dominant tech companies would always be American, it is only now being seen as a concern. The best time to take action was years ago; the next best time is now, but any policies enacted will probably be for the wrong reasons.