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You don't want the old Instagram
It isn't just the platform that has changed, we have too.
Over the past few days there's been a movement to “Make Instagram Instagram again." Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and a slew of other high profile celebrities and influencers have joined a campaign to pressure Instagram to revert to a previous version of itself.
You can read more about the campaign and how Instagram is navigating it in my story for The Washington Post.
But it’s not just Instagram that has changed, we have too.
A successful social product has a symbiotic relationship with its user base. It taps into users' latent desires and allows them to better connect with each other. However, how we connect and consume content evolves over time. Mosseri acknowledged these shifts in his video. "I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time," he said. "We see this even if we change nothing."
People think that bringing back the "old" Instagram design, or a chronological feed will somehow recapture the magic of using Instagram in 2014. It won't. That time is gone and the internet and culture have irrevocably changed. Most importantly, how and what we want to share on the internet has changed.
We don't want to express ourselves the way we did in 2014. Our notions of social norms, privacy, and what constitutes entertaining content are different now. Reverting Instagram into some old format would make it harder for us to express ourselves and connect in modern ways.
I understand people's frustration with Instagram. It's a saturated, messy product that's clearly suffering an identity crisis. In 2017 I wrote about how the future would bring a fracturing between social (connecting with friends) and media (consuming content/entertainment). For the past 10 years Instagram has been both, and I think we're finally seeing those tensions come to a head.
The investor Rex Woodbury put it this way, “There’s a war between people who want Instagram to be more like Snapchat and people who want it to be more TikTok. Right now the former group is larger and louder.”
It's tempting to think that if Instagram simply reverted to a previous design or reinstated a chronological feed, that would somehow bring us closer to the people we care about. But we don't forge personal connections by sharing or commenting on highly personal public-facing photos that are permanently displayed on a grid anymore. These days, intimacy is fostered through features like DMs, group chats, or ephemeral posts to Close Friends.
It's a testament to Instagram that these viral protests are all centered around pressuring a multi billion dollar tech giant to figure out ways to get us all to spend more time on the app. But I don't think that the next generation of social products will come from reverting to old features. I hope at least some people unsatisfied with what Instagram is offering try to build something new.