Nicole Nguyen on Reels, Instagram’s Shameless But Perhaps Misbegotten Copy of TikTok

Nicole Nguyen, in her new column at The Wall Street Journal (where she moved from BuzzFeed News) (News+ link):

Once a simple photo-sharing app, Instagram now offers ephemeral social media, short-form video, long-form video, video chat, private messaging, inspiration bookmarking and shopping. I started spending most of my time on Instagram instead of Facebook because Facebook was too bloated. Now it feels like Instagram is Facebook. […]

Still, it will likely take more than a library of hit songs and video-editing tools for Instagram to re-create TikTok’s success. On TikTok, you don’t need an account to become addicted. It’s pure entertainment, like TV, without the terrible fear-of-missing-out feeling you get by looking at posts from friends and family.

But unlike TV, a finely tuned algorithm figures out what you see next. And that algorithm is freakishly good. You scroll and scroll until you’re physically exhausted and can’t scroll any longer.

Instagram’s recommendations aren’t quite there yet. I watched a haphazard mix of imported TikToks, manic 15-second cooking videos and clips of celebrities … being celebrities. There’s little of the eclectic weird magic found on TikTok’s main feed, its personalized “For You” page.

It feels odd talking about “the good old days” of Instagram, but well, I enjoyed Instagram a lot more when it was focused simply and exquisitely on photo sharing. Obviously I don’t speak for the greater world — Instagram got a lot more popular as I deemed it to be getting worse.

But there has to be a limit to how much Facebook can cram into Instagram before it bursts at the seams, and Reels feels like too much. TikTok just doesn’t feel Instagrammy at all, so I don’t think the problem with Reels is execution, I think it’s just the basic idea of using Instagram to host Facebook’s TikTok clone. It’s a bad fit, and Facebook doesn’t have the taste to know it. Facebook is like a society in a sci-fi novel that polluted and ruined its home world (Facebook), colonized a beautiful new world (Instagram), and just went ahead and immediately polluted and ruined the new world in the exact same way.

(Call it a hunch, or maybe just wishful thinking, but I think someone could have a nice hit with a great clone of the old original photo-sharing Instagram. Not a goliath-titan-of-the-tech-industry hit, just a nice profitable hit. Like making a nice successful restaurant, never intended to be a nationwide chain with 1,000 locations.)

Tuesday, 18 August 2020