Instagram thinks you’ll get over it

In the short term, a few users may complain about the new redesign. But the Facebook-owned social app is playing the long game.

After Instagram unveiled its redesigned homepage last week, social creator and entrepreneur James Charles lashed out at what he perceived to be the app’s lack of product discipline and awareness of why users grew to enjoy it in the first place. The updates were definitely intense: Notifications and the post editor — which were previously featured in the bottom navigation bar — are now fixed to the upper-right corner along with direct messages to make room for two new tabs: Reels, its new TikTok copycat and an e-commerce hub called Shop. “They moved everything around and it makes it very, very clear where their priorities lie — and that is making money and only making money,” Charles said. “Nobody fucking asked for Reels; we have TikTok for a reason.”

In a blog post announcing the redesign and follow-up video, Instagram head Adam Mosseri acknowledged users’ resistance and asked for patience as his team worked to get it right. “We don’t take these changes lightly — we haven’t updated Instagram’s home screen in a big way for quite a way,” Mosseri said. “We’re excited about the new design and believe it gives the app a much-needed refresh, while staying true to our core value of simplicity. We’ll continue listening to your feedback so we can keep improving Instagram for you.” (An Instagram spokesperson referred The Supercreator to Mosseri’s blog post when asked how it measures the quality of user feedback and incorporates feedback into future product updates when it ships major updates like the homepage redesign.)

When it’s all said and done though, Instagram thinks Charles and anyone else frustrated by the redesign will get it over it. A few years ago, users spoke out when Instagram swapped its popular chronological feed for an algorithmically-powered timeline that promised to curate a personalized experience. And when Instagram introduced Stories in August 2016, users and critics immediately called out the app for its obvious thievery of Snapchat. Journalist Casey Newton wrote for The Verge that co-opting the signature feature of a direct competitor was a “ruthless effort to increase sharing on its own platform at the expense of Snapchat’s future growth using the very tools that Snapchat invented.” Then there’s Reels, which according to Robby Stein, Instagram’s product chief, users want to use but are unable to find. (For what it’s worth, Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times called “the worst feature I’ve ever used” in August.)

Instagram, like its parent app Facebook, is optimized for growth and relevance. “The biggest risk to Instagram is not that we change too fast, but that we don’t change and become irrelevant,” Mosseri said in his blog post. What he omits is to whom Instagram fears becoming irrelevant: advertisers, which have maxed out most of the meaningful value available from Feed and Stories. It’s unsurprising that Instagram would encroach on popular categories with untapped financial upside — short-form video and social commerce — that it feels it can dominate. What it lacks in innovation it makes up for with scale and resources to play the long game and iterate until they get it right. And for businesses and causes that want the most attention for the least money, Instagram and Facebook ads that value proposition is often too tempting to ignore.

But public opinion about social apps at large and Instagram more specifically have changed in four years, even if usage habits still lag behind. We’re far more aware of the adverse impact mindless consumption and creative comparison have on our mental well-being. As a refresher, according to research published by Jean Twenge, PhD, in the  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, major depressive episodes spiked 52 percent for 12 to 17 year-olds between 2005 and 2017. In people ages 18 to 25, depression rose 63 percent. And young adults affected by “serious psychological distress,” which the  Centers for Disease and Control define as “mental health problems severe enough to cause moderate-to-serious impairment in social, occupational or school functioning and to require treatment,” were up 71 percent. Perhaps worst of all: The rate of 18 to 19 year-olds who had suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts increased 46 percent. Respondents to this study expressed nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness or fidgeting, and such sadness and depression that “nothing could cheer [them] up. Women and girls, who are already living with often-unrealistic expectations on how they should work, live and look, are at particular risk of mood disorders. In addition to social media, rising workloads, limited staff and resources, and long hours have caused three out of four Gen Zers to leave a job for mental health reasons. And, as I often write, while tech companies like Instagram didn’t create mental illness, their social apps have made us more susceptible to suffering from it. Thank goodness we’ve mainstreamed mindfulness in a way that empowers us to feel less ashamed when the urge occurs to step away from the noise.

Creators also have more tools within easy reach that enable us to own our work, the communities we foster and the economic value we generate. There’s Patreon, which enables creators to offer exclusive benefits to fans in exchange for payments from “patrons” of the creator’s work. I’m biased towards  Substack, the technology that publishes The Supercreator, because it’s purpose-built to serve professional writers who are serious about producing paid newsletters. Mighty Networks and Circle are superior alternatives to Facebook Groups for creators who want to host membership communities away from noisy social media platforms. Buy Me a Coffee is another tool I use to accept one-time and monthly support from fans who are uninterested in subscribing to the newsletter but want to fund my work nonetheless. I’ve mentioned several of these before, but they’re always worth repeating.

And, perhaps most importantly, TikTok is a stickier product when Reels came along than Snapchat was when Facebook copied Stories. TikTok’s secret sauce is its algorithm, not the short-form video format it popularized. “Most users spend their time on TikTok in the For You feed, which is designed to enable connection and discovery. The feed is powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to them,” I wrote in June when TikTok published a blog post explaining how its recommendation engine works. “No one For You feed is the same: Different people may discover the same media, but each person’s feed is personalized to that specific individual.” Or The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino put it: “[The For You feed] continually refined, never-ending stream of TikToks optimized to hold your attention. In the teleology of TikTok, humans were put on Earth to make good content, and “good content” is anything that is shared, replicated, and built upon. In essence, the platform is an enormous meme factory, compressing the world into pellets of virality and dispensing those pellets until you get full or fall asleep.”

In response to Mosseri’s follow-up video, Charles posted an impassioned text response, echoing several of the sentiments he shared in his original video. “You guys are so focused on ripping off features from other popular apps that you have completely lost focus your apps [sic] intent in the first place[:] sharing photos!” Charles wrote. “I just don’t understand why no one seems to care. It hurts.” Still, as of now at least, Instagram is pressing forward, confident in its belief that deeply entrenched consumer habits will rule the day and deliver another commercial windfall to its already-profitable bottom line.

Read All About It

Rebecca Traister at Intelligencer on why political ads love to feature girls instead of women:

Children have long been useful when it comes to selling America on women in public life. The trick is as old as time, knotted with centuries-old concepts of Republican Motherhood and the notion that (white) women’s patriotic duty is to instill in the next generation a sense of civic responsibility, and a way for politically driven women to leverage one of the only acceptable roles for which they are broadly valued: as protectors and nurturers of the young. Harris, who doesn’t have biological children, has foregrounded her role as Momala (step-mother to husband Doug Emhoff’s two children) and Auntie to her niece Meena and Meena’s young children, who appeared onstage with her in white the night she and Biden acknowledged their victory. But it’s a little different when the most appealing way to advertise the unprecedented ascension of women to new positions of power is to avert your eyes slightly away from them, and instead focus on children.

John McWhorter at The Atlantic on the Black people who voted for T****:

Progressives may suppose that, now that the country has come so far in recognizing the backwardness of racism, Americans can afford to be more exacting. And racism is indeed a gruesome reality that an enlightened America must get past as much as possible. However, there is a difference between embracing this goal as one among many and treating it as a religiously tinged mic-drop concern. Black or Latino Trump voters may know quite well that racism exists, or that Trump is racist, yet not prioritize it to the degree that the woke consensus assumes any sensible person would. To psychologically healthy individuals, the fact that Trump wouldn’t want to be their friend may seem an abstraction, as they will never meet him, have fulfilling lives that have nothing to do with him, and are quite sure that they are as good as him anyway. To these people, Trump’s policies, or even just some of them, or even just the cut of his jib, may seem more important than what Trump would say about them in private—or public.

Tyler McCall at Fashionista on the power of fashion’s current plus-size moment:

Being a plus-size model at a time of growth and emphasis on representation has meant more opportunity for these women, but it also comes with its downsides. [Model Paloma] Elsesser pointed out that, even when she's on a shoot with other straight size models, she's the one most often asked to do the extra video content, to do an interview, to do a solo shoot in just lingerie with a jacket over it; and, of course, social media comes with trolls. But Elsesser says she tries not to take it personally, elaborating that both the fatphobia from the trolls and the urge to ignore all the positive feedback for one negative comment are rooted in systemic oppression.

Nrooks at ZORA on HBCU graduates, who, thanks to Vice President-elect Harris, are finally getting the recognition they deserve:

In a country where Black people so often have to fight for the right to be, live, and breathe, HBCUs start from the proposition that Black life matters. They affirm the complexities of Black cultures, develop Black intellect, assume Black competence, and can count past one in regard to the number of Black professors a department might need. They welcome and value Black people, all kinds of Black people. They most certainly do not represent the “real world,” but that is actually the whole point of their existence.

The Only Black Guy in the Office at Level on the “subtle flex of being the fashionable guy in the office”:

Dressing up for work is obviously something I love doing for myself, but it was nice knowing that it was appreciated, even expected, when I walked into the office. The added bonus to feeling like a million bucks when you walk out the door is having unofficial fans to witness it. It’s one thing to be one of the very few Black people in the office, but also be one of the best-dressed on top of being good at your job? It’s a triple threat.

Paris Marx at OneZero on the impending collapse of the ad-based internet:

Advertising has played an integral role in shaping the internet as we experience it today, as it provided an easy and obvious way for services and websites to generate revenue. Web developers, website editors, and online business owners simply had to pop a few ad boxes onto their sites, and they were making money. But behind those ads is a vast infrastructure designed to track, target, and serve them, all paired with increasingly complex markets whose lack of transparency makes them ripe for speculation. A growing number of experts and analysts believe that these inherent flaws are creating a financial bubble that, when it bursts, could fundamentally reshape the internet as we know it.

Super Picks

Urban Outfitters Heated Mouse Pad: The heated cushion gives fuzzy-wuzzy outer surface gives you the same satisfaction you get when you snuggle under your beloved electric blanket — while inspiring you to get your best work done without freezing your ass off. File this USB-cord-powered accessory into the category of things you didn’t know you needed until you realized it exists.

Thanks for reading! Send me tips, comments, questions — or just say hi: