Today, Instagram announced a new feature: Stories. Sound familiar? They are, yes, functionally identical to Snapchat Stories — collections of photos and videos published to a feed for 24 hours. The Facebook subsidiary, which has had three years to come up with a new idea for how to share photos and videos over the internet, finally just said “Screw it. What’s Spiegel up to?”
I don’t know what else to tell you. I could walk you through how it works, but you know how it works: It’s Snapchat. You can doodle on your pictures and add emoji to them and then, 24 hours later, they’re gone. If your Instagram account is public, so are your stories. Now, when fun stuff happens spontaneously, you need to update two of your apps. Cool.
According to TechCrunch:
Stories creates a place for content that’s not “good enough” for the Instagram feed, or at least is too silly to fit in amongst the art. Since everything disappears, you don’t have to be ashamed of that awkward face or stupid joke forever the way things posted to your real Instagram profile reflect on you forever.
The thing is, we’re way past that point. Some of the most popular Instagram accounts are dedicated to silly memes and low-quality JPEGs, usually screenshots of tweets or Tumblr posts. FuckJerry has millions of followers. Twice this year, I have seen The Fat Jew, a guy who got famous on Instagram for stealing jokes from other people, in feature-length motion pictures. That’s how big “silly” Instagram is. People love silly Instagram content.
Facebook, and by association, Instagram, have been suffering from a dire problem in recent months: People are posting less personal content about themselves. They are sharing less, which means lower “engagement,” which means fewer people and less time spent possibly looking at advertisements. This share drought is often attributed to context collapse — the problem that comes from one person having to manage multiple digital identities. Friends, work acquaintances, internet friends, the girl you drunkenly friended at a party one time, and so on.
Stories, which are ephemeral and intentionally low-quality, lessen the strain of crafting a one-size-fits-all digital identity. You’re no longer creating a permanent record; even if you are, there’s not as much pressure attached to it.
The question is whether Instagram is already too closely associated with one particular kind of content or interface to compete with Snapchat’s more private and casual experience. Here’s how Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom feels about it, according to the New York Times:
Mr. Systrom does not pretend that Instagram Stories is original. Instead, he said the narrative string of photos and video that disappear after 24 hours is a format, akin to the cascading feed-based model popularized by companies like Facebook and Twitter and eventually adopted by countless others.
I’d respect this move more if you just came out and said, “Facebook is an uncontested dominant force on the web that — just because of how large and influential it is — can rip off and steamroll almost any competition. We have tried making Snapchat-like apps before and they all failed miserably, so now we’re just gonna duplicate Snapchat unapologetically.”
Oh, and, uh, the Instagram Stories will probably soon feature something similar to Lenses as well, since Facebook acquired the app MSQRD a few months ago.