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What’s going on with Instagram?


Kylie Jenner misses the old Instagram. Cassie Delaney looks at what has changed, what’s coming and why it has the celebs quaking. 

Billion dollar tech companies are funny little things. Despite their ludicrous valuations and multimillion dollar revenues, anything less than month on month growth is considered a failing. 

This constant desire for growth is what has prompted the team at Instagram to reimagine the platform’s features. The chronological feed, full of family and friends photos, has been replaced with a seemingly random array of video. A full screen experience is being tested with a select number of users in the States before it will be shipped globally. If introduced individually, over a longer timeframe, these features would cause no alarm but all together all and once and it feels a little… well it feels a little like Tik Tok.   

This is not the first time Instagram has looked to other platforms for inspiration. It was Snapchat’s ephemeral content that inspired Instagram Stories; a feature that essentially rendered Snapchat obsolete. So what can we expect from the new Instagram and why has it got the Kardashian Jenner’s shaking?

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Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri accidentally revealed a little too much when he tweeted that video was where growth lies. It’s an obvious move, video means users stick around for longer, increasing time spent on the app. The focus on video was one of the key priorities included in Instagram’s 2022 strategy, and is the reason why IGTV and video posts were consolidated into one video product known simply as Instagram Video. Now an increased focus on Reels could see video consolidated even more. This would mean a lifting of the 60 second Reel limit, and perhaps the introduction of even longer Reels to compete with Tik Tok’s 10 minute limit. 

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One of the beauties of Tik Tok is its powerful recommendation algorithm. Terrifying in its accuracy, Tik Tok analyses what you enjoy and serves you content related to very specific interests. The stickiness and addictive nature of Tik Tok is its ability to find content it knows you’ll enjoy. Where YouTube’s algorithm works on like for like recommendations, Tik Tok’s is more nuanced and considered. Instagram, similarly to YouTube typically understands when a user is interested in cat pictures, so serves more cat pictures. Tik Tok sees that a user likes cat videos and understands that that user is probably also a lesbian interested in crafts, homewares, DIY, sustainable living and the much sought after #cottagecore aesthetic. 

Instagram is trying to compete with this by helping users “discover” content from accounts they might like. Now in your home feed, you’ll come across videos from accounts you don’t follow. Like one #vanlife video and expect your feed to now be filled with similar clips. Where Instagram is failing is again building a recommendations algorithm that feels very superficial. It’s also pushing this content hard, meaning many users are reporting seeing the same recommended Reels over and over and over again. 

The full screen experience

Another beauty of Tik Tok is the full screen experience. One video fills the screen, immersing the viewer in the content. The vertical scroll is uninterrupted, with the endless content making it impossible to turn away from. Instagram is known for the vertical scroll, but a continuous feed of content could completely change the experience. The biggest change will happen in Stories, as Instagram is reportedly testing the. Vertical scroll here. No longer will you tap tap tap through content from your friends and family, instead you’ll swipe blurring the lines between posted and ephemeral content. 

The changes have not been well received. Kylie Jenner, Instagram’s Head Girl, was so enraged she posted a story to her 360 Million Followers imploring the tech lords to “MAKE INSTAGRAM INSTAGRAM AGAIN.”  But why has a change in layout, form and content shaken the star? Well the beauty and the curse of social media and powerful algorithms is how they reframe fame and celebrity. The stars of the Tik Tok generation are the Mormon moms embroiled in a swinging scandal, they’re the viral salad making chefs filming inexpensive kitchens and they’re the dancing, lip-syncing pretty girls amassing millions of followers from their bedrooms.  

“We don’t want to make videos, Adam,” Chrissy Tiegen tweeted at the Instagram CEO admits the rollout of these changes. And of course our image obsessed celeb head honchos don’t want to make videos – it leaves too much space to be exposed, it’s less pliable than a photo and they just cannot compete with the rising social stars who do love making videos.   

What’s more, despite some loud voices shouting about the dislike of increased video features, the user numbers say the opposite. TikTok is the fasting growing app on the market right now. It’s very clear that we, the mere mortal viewer, craves video. 

Instagram will change. It has to. The question is whether it will do enough to innovate and excite people or will it always be, ironically, a follower.