‘Stop trying to be TikTok’: How video-centric Instagram sparked uprising

If you’re going to change a social media platform synonymous with celebrity culture, make sure the Kardashian-Jenners are on board first.

Instagram was forced into partial retirement last week as influencer royalty joined a user rebellion against the app, driven by complaints that it had become too video-centric and pushed content from accounts that people weren’t following.

Kylie Jenner and her sister Kim Kardashian – who each have more than 300 million Instagram followers – echoed the concerns of hundreds of thousands of others when they shared a meme demanding “Make Instagram Instagram again”.

The main accusation was that Instagram was mimicking arch-rival TikTok at the expense of a loyal user base that wanted a new emphasis on its photo-sharing origins. The meme, which was originally posted by American photographer Tati Bruening, added, “Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see cute pics of my friends.” A “save Instagram” petition set up by Bruening has garnered more than 275,000 signatures.

Chinese-owned TikTok has rocked the social media establishment. The social video app has won more than a billion users worldwide to put it on par with Instagram, itself a former upstart that galvanized the competition so much that Mark Zuckerberg bought it .

Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced last week that the app would roll back some of the changes that sparked the uproar. “I’m glad we took a risk – if we don’t fail once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough,” he said in an interview with the Platformer Tech Bulletin. “But we absolutely have to take a step back and regroup.”

It’s not just influencers who have complained, but also people who use the platform to interact with their friends and family. “It’s not a good overhaul. I refuse to scroll through my feed now because I see more videos of pages I’m not following instead of my own family and friends,” said Erika Cazares, owner of a project management company at Texas.

Instagram has tried a number of changes, including increasing the number of videos in users’ main feed, introducing a full-screen mode for viewing posts, and streaming more videos from accounts than Instagram. a user does not follow. In a permanent change announced last week, all videos posted to Instagram will become “Reels”, Instagram’s TikTok-style video feature.

Mosseri said Instagram would reduce the number of videos sent to users from accounts they don’t follow and stop testing a full-screen mode to display posts.

Vex King, a UK-based self-help author, said Instagram needs to do more to keep users happy. King said he owed his success to Instagram — his literary agent found him on the app. But he is one of many users who took to the platform last week to lament how things had changed. Wing said his reach – measured in likes from his 1.2 million followers – had dropped sharply since Instagram started tinkering this year.

“The majority of users I’ve spoken to would like photos to come first, want better support, a default timeline feed, and an algorithm that serves them better,” he said. “I guess this rollback is a step in the right direction because it means they’re paying attention and they’re listening, but they still should be doing more. They might even consider creating a separate reels app to rival TikTok if that’s what they want to do.

Instagram was launched in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as a photo-sharing app, a home for the millions of snaps people took on their camera smartphones. It grew rapidly from one million users in two months to 10 million in one year, prompting Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook to buy it for $1 billion in 2012. It shaped the culture celebrities, attracting legions of users as it became as ubiquitous as its shorthand Insta.

Shortly before announcing the withdrawal, Mosseri said in an Instagram video post that the world was changing and Instagram had to change with it. “I believe more and more of Instagram will become video over time.”

Instagram’s parent company Meta hinted at a future for short videos last week when it reported a 30% increase in time spent on Reels across Instagram and Facebook.

Last week, Instagram’s sister app Facebook also announced a sweeping overhaul, also focused on driving users towards algorithmic selections of posts from strangers, and away from content shared by their friends. “Our discovery engine will recommend content that we think will interest you the most,” said Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and Meta.

Users who didn’t like the algorithm changes may need to brace themselves. Zuckerberg said the amount of recommended content on users’ Instagram and Facebook feeds from accounts they don’t follow would double from 15% currently to 30% by the end of next year.

Experts say Zuckerberg, who is also making a major strategic move into the virtual world of the “metaverse,” will not back down.

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“Make no mistake, this is a consolidation, not a rollback. Meta is clear that its future is the metaverse and short video. And the latter means Instagram wants to be like TikTok,” said Mike Proulx, director of research at analytics firm Forrester.

Both Instagram and Facebook fear that what many users want is an experience closer to that provided by TikTok. According to a study by SimilarWeb, the video-sharing app far surpasses Instagram in terms of downloads, and among 18-34 year olds, it also beats Facebook. TikTok takes a very different approach to “old Instagram,” with its algorithm-powered “for you” page pulling content from users across the service, rather than focusing on friends and other followers.

But the TikTok difference is not just a matter of form. Unlike Instagram and Facebook, the app has always been more about consuming content than connecting with friends – and in their haste, some fear Zuckerberg and Mosseri have forgotten that.

“Meta seems to have correctly identified what people like about TikTok,” said Ryan Broderick, who writes the Garbage Day newsletter on internet culture. “Short videos, remixable video and audio editing tools that work on mobile, and creators who create things rather than influence things – but they’re still trying to blur those features into an ecosystem that wasn’t designed for them.”


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