Instagram is combining the best of Snapchat and Periscope to help you get comfortable on camera. Rather than overlap with Facebook Live and Messenger, Instagram is putting an ephemeral spin on video streaming and private messaging.
Today, two big new features begin rolling out to Instagram Stories on iOS and Android over the next few weeks. Instagram Live lets you broadcast video to your followers in real-time, but they can only watch while you’re still streaming. No replays. But you will be able to browse an algorithmically curated Explore page of the best Instagram Live videos happening right now.
And if you don’t feel like sharing a doodle and text-covered Instagram Stories post to all your followers, you’ll be able to send it as a ephemeral Direct message to just a few of your closest friends. But they can only watch it twice before it disappears.
“We pivoted” Instagram’s head of product Kevin Weil tells me. “Instagram should be all of your moments, not just your highlights.” Since the new Live and Direct content self-destructs, Instagram hopes users will be less concerned about how they look or if they’re doing something cool. The features sway the balance of who Instagram is for further towards users rather than public figures and polished social media celebrities — a balance other apps get wrong.
Instagram Live is the most ephemeral of the major Live streaming platforms now that Meerkat is defunct.
While Periscope started with a 24 hour expiration date, it eventually allowed permanent replays like Facebook Live. Instagram Live videos disappear as soon as the stream stops, which could get people broadcasting more frequently rather than saving the capability just for big flashy events or citizen journalism. Meanwhile, viewers will feel greater urgency to watch immediately because they know it’s their only chance.
Product manager Shilpa Sarkar tells me her company was “interested in people going live to hang out with friends.”, which is becoming popular in Live group video chat app Houseparty. Instagram was spotted testing Live in Russia by T Journal last month, and last week told The Verge it would build a Live product.
To go Live, you’ll swipe from the Instagram Stories camera. Instagram will choose some close friends who’ve shown interest in Live video to hit with notifications to come watch, as well as showing a Live tag on your Instagram Stories bubble that appears at the top of the feeds of your followers. Not alerting everyone who follows you prevents notification overload that plagued Periscope early on.
Viewers can comment, or tap repeatedly to add hearts exactly like on Periscope but with their face in some of the hearts. Broadcasters can add comments too, and helpfully pin one of theirs or a viewer’s to the top of the reel. For a more peaceful, FaceTimey experience, streamers can hide comments or all the buttons, and they can block or report anyone who harasses them.
Since none of your friends might be Live at any given moment, Instagram’s Explore tab Stories section will highlight the best Live streams happening now. Based on view count, geography, and language, Instagram will provide a curated channel you can swipe through, creating the most laid-back Live discovery and consumption experience around.
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Instagram Direct Ephemeral
Instagram Direct already has 300 million monthly users, but all of the messages are permanent. The existing product lets you send text, photos, and videos, and posts from Instagram to friends and discuss them. But with Instagram Stories now letting you communicate visually with overlaid text and drawing, Instagram needed a way to share these ‘Gramsterpieces privately.
Now Direct will have an ephemeral Stories messages bar at the top along with a list of permanent threads below. When you go to share a photo or video to Instagram Stories, you’ll be able to also select friends or groups of friends to send it to. It’s much like how you can send Snapchat Stories as private messages, but adds in a groups feature.
Recipients can watch the messages once, and replay them once, but then they’re gone. This way if you want to make a racy joke or share something vulnerable not fit for your public Story or all your friends, you can send it Direct and be sure it will disappear. If lots of friends contribute to one of these group “camera conversations”, the thread becomes sort of a collaborative Story slideshow you can tap through, reminiscent of the cooperative video app Riff that Facebook tried building.
The dual Direct inbox is certainly a bit complicated, but both ephemeral and permanent messaging makes sense in Instagram so it needed a way to collect both. A third option could be coming. When I asked if Instagram would ever let you Direct Live stream privately to a group of friends, the company said that makes sense and it’s thinking about how to do it. However, Instagram needs to be careful that it doesn’t become confusing with so many features.
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What’s special about Instagram’s ephemeral Live and Direct updates is that they give creators total control over their audience. You see if someone starts watching your Live stream, and they can’t watch it later, while you select exactly who receives your Directs. That means no one can snoop on this content without you knowing immediately, something not even Snapchat offers for public accounts.
Typically, every piece of social media we create comes with the sneaking suspicion that a co-worker or family member might see it. That forces creativity to bend to the lowest common moral and intimacy denominator. Everything has to be inoffensive and guarded enough for everybody. But that extinguishes the true potential of Instagram unlocked by these features: the freedom to be yourself by choosing who you be yourself around.