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The co-founders of Instagram introduce a new social platform for reading news

Will lightning ever strike twice? That seems to be the big question being asked today, as Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the creators of Instagram, unveil their next social app to the general public. According to a story in The Verge, the team has started a new company to investigate social applications; their first product is Artifact, a bespoke news reader.

The app is not yet accessible to the general public, but there is a waitlist for those who are interested. Google Reader was an RSS newsreader tool that Google discontinued in 2013. From what has been stated, this new service seems like a current update on Reader. In this context, though, Artifact is defined as a newsreader that use machine learning to tailor content to each individual user and integrates social features that encourage users to discuss the stories they read with one another. (It’s true that Google Reader had a comparable function, but it required users to manually code in RSS feeds.)

According to The Verge, at initially, Artifact will only show users a handpicked selection of news articles, but over time, it will show them stories that are more relevant to their interests. The stories might originate from a variety of sources, some much larger than others, such as The New York Times and others much more modest. Key additions include the ability to moderate comments, get updates on new articles and comments from the people you follow, and have private conversations with other users via a direct messaging inbox.

This idea seems to have some similarities with one of Twitter’s primary functions: the sharing and discussion of news. Also, it comes at a time when Twitter users are weighing their choices after the app’s purchase by Elon Musk, who has made a number of erratic and divisive changes to the app’s roadmap and regulations, driving away some of the app’s loyal users in the process.

However, as presented, Artifact doesn’t seem particularly novel; not only does it sound like a modern take on a Google Reader-like experience, but it would also compete with a number of other news reading apps, both new and old, that feature personalization elements, such as Flipboard, SmartNews, and Newsbreak. It sounds very much like Pocket and Matter, two of Pocket’s younger competitors, which likewise combine reading news with tailored suggestions and user commentary. Substack has also taken advantage of Twitter’s instability by introducing in-app communication between its users and content creators. ByteDance’s Toutiao has been successful with this approach internationally, but creating a localised version for the United States would be challenging.

The new app would compete with the social media behemoth Meta, which Instagram’s co-founders departed in 2018, in many aspects. Today, billions of people use Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Instagram and WhatsApp, as entry points via which they follow and interact with news and information provided by friends, family, organisations, and corporations.

Therefore, users already have built-in news applications accessible to them through Apple News and Google News, meaning Artifact may face a plethora of competition in the market despite whatever polish or differentiation it may achieve.

In contrast to how algorithmic suggestions helped TikTok rise to prominence, the pair behind Artifact thinks recent advances in machine learning technology may help give the app an advantage, as reported by The Verge.

Although the video app’s For You stream may be very engaging, TikTok’s meteoric rise has been attributed to its massive investment in user acquisition, which has reportedly reached $1 billion annually as of 2018. Even with extraordinary founders, a firm may not have the resources to compete. And news reading in and of itself appears to be a bit of a passé market to pursue in an age where younger Gen Z users are frequently now turning to entertainment applications like TikTok to be updated on news and international events, too.

It’s diving into a contested news industry, too, with the founders pledging to make the  “subjective” and “hard” decisions over the material on its network.

However, Instagram’s creators can’t be understated in terms of the company’s success. The photo-sharing app was acquired by Facebook for a cool billion dollars in 2012, making it one of the greatest social tech deals ever.

Although a revenue sharing with publishers has been discussed, Artifact is currently under development and has not yet been monetized. (Why do we feel like we’ve heard it before?)

However, the creators’ stated goal of using their new business as a proving ground for additional experimental social goods makes it unclear how much weight the app’s individual success will have.