Media & Entertainment

Imagining Instagram: Stories-first


Image Credits:

D.J. Sherrets


D.J. Sherrets is a product designer in New York City and previously worked at Google.

More posts from D.J. Sherrets

Time spent by people watching Instagram Stories — which is temporary sharing with private replies that launched in August 2016 — could someday significantly surpass time spent in the Instagram Feed, which is the permanent stream of photos and videos with comments that launched in October 2010. Although numbers comparing sharing and time spent between Stories and Feed are not available, there’s more to be done.

This feels credible to me for reasons such as Stories is “largely video,” according to the Instagram CEO, and video sharing and watching videos on Instagram are going up over time as a percentage of both time spent and total posts.

As of June, video watch-time on Instagram is up 80 percent year-over-year and the number of videos shared is up 4x. From June 2016 to April 2017, Instagram grew monthly active users by 40 percent. Before Stories launched, there was a question about a per user Feed photo sharing decrease. A year after Stories launched, people younger than 25 spent 32 minutes per day on Instagram on average, and people 25 years and older spent more than 24 minutes per day. That compares to 21 minutes per day on average for all Instagram users in October 2014. Instagram Stories currently has more than 300 million daily active users, and that compares to Instagram’s total 500 million daily active users in September.

I often visit Instagram only to watch Stories without scrolling through the Feed. I believe Stories-first is happening with how Instagram is used, but Instagram is not yet designed to be Stories-first. At a minimum, the Feed must be improved to the standard of Stories, and Stories must be featured equal to its significant current and expected usage.



How would you imagine Instagram would work if Stories were made first, and Feed didn’t exist? And what if only now Feed were designed and introduced? Viewing Stories full-screen makes sense, which may help explain why it’s “largely video.” However, the scrolling technique used in Feed today obscures that video because the top or bottom is cut off during scrolls, and scrolling can require more than one gesture — such as swipe up and then press to stop — just to get the next post on the screen. This can cause the user to miss the beginning of the video and also split their focus, while taking more time than necessary. So I felt a need to create a new design.

How could Instagram change from Feed-first to Stories-first? Today, Feed scrolling is the primary focus of Instagram’s design. When opening the app, the Feed uses 68.29 percent of screen space on iPhone 7 Plus. Meanwhile, Stories is displayed as one horizontal row below the top of the app, assigned 22.55 percent of screen space.

Let’s first consider the differences between Instagram Stories and Instagram Feed, and how they could become more similar or different:

Stories core:

A: Delete in 24 hours
B: Replies are private messages
C: Shows who viewed your Story

Feed core:

D: Permanently shared unless deleted
E: Hearts and comments are visible to anyone who can view the post

Stories current design:

A: Small circle profile photo or thumbnail
B: One-tap to next post, or swipe left to next Story
C: Photo shown for 3 seconds, and video shown once
D: Swipe up to privately reply, or swipe down to close

Feed current design:

E: Full-width of video/photo is shown, and conforms to dimensions 1:1 for square, 1.91:1 for landscape or 4:5 for portrait
F: Name/profile photo appear outside of the video/photo with caption/comments/buttons
G: Scroll up to view more Feed posts

Imagine combining features across Stories and Feed. What if Stories included comments? Or if Feed was one tap to advance? Applying learnings from how Stories appears to have made video the focus, a new approach to Feed may increase how many videos are shared, increase the ratio of videos-to-photos shared and increase how long people want to watch videos on Instagram.

Please let me know your comments/feedback about my design by messaging here. In addition to the video and gif above, I also show below how each feature works in my design.

My design for Stories-first with Feed

Generally, I think this approach could help bring together the user experiences of Feed and Stories, while preserving the distinctions that make each useful.

Feed and Stories always one swipe away

Easily switch between Stories and Feed and vice versa at any time. Imagine if you could open the app, tap on Feed and watch for a while what your friends have been sharing and commenting. Then with just one swipe down, you can return to the main screen, which shows up to thee rows of five Stories each. Then you can tap on friends’ Stories you want to watch for a while and send back private replies for some. Then switch back to Feed to check out more updates, and so on.

Below, you start each side at the fifth Feed Story, then open the NYC Story, then go to the sixth Feed Story. A bar appears in the middle when finished, and indicates that Stories-first is faster:

You can switch to view three big thumbnails of Stories per row, then view more Stories or go back to the Feed. Today, Instagram shows these larger previews of recent Stories sometimes when you scroll in the Feed, but not at the top of the app.

Full-screen Feed posts with one tap to next post

This is a much faster and easier way to look at content, and it can be done simply with one hand holding the phone. Tap through multiple videos/photos included in an album post. Feed still shows only one post, and focus remains on ranking Feed based on content shared. In contrast, Stories shows all of someone’s posts for that day.

There is no sharing of who viewed each Feed post, so a distinction between Feed and Stories is preserved. Cropping/editing tools of Feed posts would now be included as editing options after making a video/photo in Camera and after selecting from Camera Roll. Note that any dimension video/photo can be posted to the Feed, including using full width/height of available space.

Press on the Feed post to show only the videos/photos, then release to show text and buttons over the videos/photos again. You also can opt to show no animation from right to left when a new Feed post is shown, so the focus can remain on the content, without needing to look at the animation.

Press then swipe up to ‘heart’

The gesture replaces double-tap to heart so one tap is to advance. Note that if you swipe up and the heart appears, then you can still swipe down and the heart will not have been sent. A heart is only sent upon release of press after swipe up.

Watch Feed in 2×2 full screen and tap a Feed post to expand to full size

Showing a 2×2 of Feed posts lets you view four posts per screen, so you can scan a bunch of posts to decide what to view. Tap on the right side to go to the next 2×2, or tap on the left edge to return.

Just tap on a Feed post in a 2×2 to open to full screen of that post, so there’s a clearer view of the post.

Tap Profile, then tap to open Grid, then one-tap to next post

This is a fast way to check out profile posts with just one tap, so the design of viewing Profile and viewing Feed are compatible.

Turn on Stories comments and require approval for comments before sharing

You can choose which posts you may want to share to view responses. Comments in Stories provide a space to share responses among viewers. While knowing the default is the comments are deleted with the Story, this may inspire people to share more comments.

A purpose of the option to review all comments before posting is for the person posting to feel more control over the comments added to their content.

Turn on or off comments by using the camera, then tapping Next for the selector.

Tap on the comment icon to reply with a comment on a Story, or swipe up to privately reply. So even with comments on, there remains a default focus on private replies.

Choose each Story video/photo to expire after 6 hours, 24 hours, 1 week, 1 month or 6 months

You can change the expiration time for each Story you share in order to control the amount of time the Stories appear. The default time remains 24 hours.

Remove read Stories when tap Feed, and Feed moves up to the first row if no more unread Stories

So the design is flexible even if there are only a few Stories to view. At most there are four versions of the layout that could appear: 1 Stories row, 2 Stories rows, 3 Stories rows, and 3 Stories rows with a preview of the fourth Stories row.

Closing after watching 16 Stories:

Closing after watching the last unread Story:

Turn off auto-play Stories

Only watch the Stories you tap. Turning off auto-play can last until you turn it back on. Or, another approach is that turning off auto-play can last for the current session or 24 hours, then will return to auto-play for the next Story.

Make a playlist of Stories to watch now

Easily pick which Stories you want to watch.

Swipe right to open camera over Home, or tap bottom-row camera to open — and swipe down to close camera

This provides a consistent way to swipe down to close the camera.

Make multiple videos/photos without stopping

This helps bring default function of the phone’s camera app into the app for making a bunch of videos/photos when needed in the moment. Use the “Multi” camera option, then tap thumbnail or swipe up to decide which videos/photos to select. Media would be stored in the camera roll or cloud.

Main design conclusion

Plainly, there are many important possibilities to explore. Meanwhile, I believe my approach outlined here could significantly benefit people today. And the purpose is to design and share ideas with people who can inspire change. There could be continued development, such as with trying the design with people in the app.

Looking forward, augmented reality could increasingly expand the canvas for information and interaction to everyone, everywhere — but over the coming years, what won’t change about sharing? Sharing the lived experience is a core desire. In some broad definition, it is what makes us alive. And people will want increasing ways to share across dimensions of time, people, place, format, feelings, identity and more. Really, the story of sharing itself — including what, how and why — is still being told. As ever.

For higher resolution videos of the ideas above, please visit my Facebook Page.

Disclosure: DJ Sherrets is a shareholder of Facebook stock.

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