People only post the highlights of their life on Instagram, so today the app adds its own version of “Stories” to poach goofy, off-the-cuff, everyday content from Snapchat. It works exactly like Snapchat Stories, allowing you to post 24-hour ephemeral photo and video slideshows that disappear. But because Instagram Stories appear at the top of the old feed, your followers will inevitably see them without you needing to build a new audience in a different app.
Instagram Stories is rolling out globally for iOS and Android over the next few weeks.
You could call it Snapchat for adults, a way for brands to post more without overwhelming people’s feeds, an alternative to Instagram’s Like-driven success theater or a blatant ripoff.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom wouldn’t disagree with you. When confronted about Instagram Stories being a clone of Snapchat Stories, he surprisingly admitted “They deserve all the credit,” but insisted “This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.” Read my full interview with Kevin Systrom here.
The moments in-between
With 500 million monthly active users, 300 million daily actives and now 250 million users on its Direct messaging feature, Instagram is enormous expansion for what Snapchat pioneered.
Facebook wants to own more unique, must-see original sharing that was reportedly down 15 percent year over year as of early 2016. But boosting sharing frequency has been hard for Instagram because people only post their most polished selfies, sunsets and meals.
Systrom admits he hadn’t shared to Instagram at all during the six days before we met because none of the moments seemed special enough. “Instagram is a curated feed, but you only get to see the highlights,” Systrom laments. Instagram’s sweat and blemish-hiding filters encouraged that social norm. And while Instagram recently started sorting its feed, people still worry that posting multiple times in a row will seem like they’re spamming their friends, so they hold back.
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. Because 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.
Systrom explains that “It basically solves a problem for all these people who want to take a ton of photos of an event or something in their lives, but want to manage what their profile looks like and not bomb feed, obviously, as that’s one of the no-nos on Instagram.”
Facebook has tried multiple times to copy Snapchat with standalone apps like Poke, Slingshot and Instagram Bolt. No one wanted another app, and they all failed and were pulled from the stores.
But Instagram may have found a breakthrough for solving this problem. Instead of burying a Snapchat competitor in another app people don’t need, it’s put it front and center of one they use all the time. And instead of trying to be special with weird mechanics like Slingshot’s reply-to-reveal content, it’s cloned Snapchat Stories down to the pixel because it’s already proven to work.
How Instagram Stories works (déjà vu)
For a quick guide to how Instagram Stories works, check out our animated instruction manual.
It’s easiest to think of Instagram Stories in terms of what’s the same and what’s different from Snapchat Stories.
- The Stories format laces the last 24 hours of 10-second-max photos and videos you’ve shared into a slideshow you can tap to fast-forward through
- Everything you post disappears after 1 day
- You shoot full-screen in the app or upload things from the last 24 hours of your camera roll (recently added to Snapchat with Memories)
- You adorn your photos with drawings, text, emojis and swipeable color filters
- You can save your individual Story slides before or after posting them
- Your followers voluntarily tap in to pull your Story and view it, instead of it being pushed into a single feed
- People can swipe up to reply to your Stories, which are delivered through Instagram Direct private messages
- You can see who’s viewed your Story
- Instagram Stories appear in a row at the top of the main feed instead of on a separate screen like Snapchat, and are sorted by who you interact with most, not purely reverse chronological order like Snapchat
- Anyone you allow to follow you on Instagram can see your Instagram Stories, though you can also block people, as opposed to building a separate network on Snapchat
- You don’t have to be following someone to view their Instagram Stories, which can be viewed from their profile as long as they’re public
- You can swipe right or tap the Stories icon in the top left to open the Stories camera, as opposed to Snapchat defaulting to the camera
- You can hold the screen to pause a slideshow, or tap the left side to go back a slide, as opposed to Snapchat’s time-limited, constantly progressing Stories
- You can’t add old content to Instagram Stories unless you re-import or screenshot, while Snapchat lets you share old Memories with a white border and timestamp around them
- Instagram offers three brush types for drawing: standard, translucent highlighter and color-outlined neon, as opposed to Snapchat’s single brush
- Instagram offers custom color control for drawing with an easy picker, as well as pre-made palettes like earth-tones or grayscale, while Snapchat custom color control is much more clumsy
- Instagram currently lacks location filters, native selfie lens filters, stickers, 3D stickers and speed effects, but you can save content from third-party apps like Facebook-owned MSQRD and then share them
- You can’t see who screenshotted your Instagram Story, while Snapchat warns you
- You can’t save your whole day’s Story like on Snapchat, but you can post slides from your Story to the permanent Instagram feed
Eventually, Instagram Stories could be a goldmine, though Systrom says the company won’t focus on monetization until users love it. “I think that businesses and interest accounts, celebrities, etcetera, especially businesses, will find a tremendous use case,” he tells me. “They post three times and they think to themselves ‘Aww, should we really be posting that fourth photo?’ And this just opens the floodgates on events.”
Eventually Instagram could sell ads that point users to a brand’s Story, like a clothing label with a Story from their fashion show, a politician from their rally or a brand doing a sponsored content tie-in with a social media star. Instead of directing people to their sluggish profile, they can point them to a dynamic, urgent story.
No Likes, no judgment
At their core, the use cases of Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories are identical: Shoot, decorate and frequently share little clips from your life. Instagram lacks some of Snapchat’s advanced features, but it’s built where many people, especially adults, already have a social graph built.
It’s that placement of Stories atop the Instagram, a simple design choice, that could make Instagram a hit. People love to vie for attention. If you give them a new window to show off through that’s smack dab at the front of an app their friends use, vanity will kick in and people will fill that space with their face and creations.
When Instagram launched six years ago, it was a new network open to experimentation in front of friends. People were trying to learn how to make art from camera phones. But over time, Instagram evolved into a game where everyone seeks to win the most Likes and validation. And so they only share the most exciting, pretty parts of the their life, and everything else is swept under the rug.
Eventually Instagram became the core permanent profile of the mobile generation, and everything you posted had to be good enough for you to be judged by forever. Teens created fake Instagram profiles called “Finstagrams” only their closest friends could see just so they could post whatever they wanted without grubbing for internet points.
Now Instagram is offering a different way to share with no Likes, no public comments and a lot less pressure.
The bright-colored text and sloppy drawing may feel a bit out of place on Instagram at first, which is why Instagram was smart not to simply add the Stories creation tool to the main feed’s default uploader.
Some people already loyal to Snapchat might not see the need for Instagram Stories… but the screen real estate will likely be too attractive to pass up. They’ll easily be able to save and reshare their Snaps to Instagram Stories anyways. And anyone who’s dipped their toe into Snapchat and found it fun but couldn’t rebuild a following there may revel in this new playground built inside Instagram.
“We’re north of 500 million people using the product,” Systrom concludes. “We can either let the system evolve the way it evolves — I think that’s a great consumption business. But we want to make sure to keep the soul of what made us love it at the beginning: Share whatever I want, when I want, with who I want. The daily use case.”