Artifact: News-Focused Social App From Instagram Co-Founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger

Casey Newton, writing at Platformer:

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are back.

The Instagram co-founders, who departed Facebook in 2018 amid tensions with their parent company, have formed a new venture to explore ideas for next-generation social apps. Their first product is Artifact, a personalized news feed that uses machine learning to understand your interests and will soon let you discuss those articles with friends.

I lucked into an invitation from a friend. I’m square in the bullseye of the Artifact target audience, as both an inveterate news junkie and a huge fan of Systrom and Krieger’s original Instagram. Newton:

Users who come in from the waitlist today will see only that central ranked feed. But Artifact beta users are currently testing two more features that Systrom expects to become core pillars of the app. One is a feed showing articles posted by users that you have chosen to follow, along with their commentary on those posts. (You won’t be able to post raw text without a link, at least for now.) The second is a direct-message inbox so you can discuss the posts you read privately with friends.

I’ll give it some time, but at the moment, it’s a disappointment. The articles they show come directly from publishers’ websites, but because Artifact isn’t a web browser, per se, there’s no ad filtering. It’s just ads ads ads, interrupting seemingly every single article, every couple of paragraphs. This same “man, I miss ad blockers” feeling strikes me when I use Apple News too, but Apple News articles have way fewer ads, and better ads, than what I’m seeing so far in articles I read in Artifact. “Like Apple News but worse” is not a good elevator pitch.

To be clear, these aren’t Artifact’s ads. They’re the ads shown on the original web pages. But because the article design on most news websites sucks, the article design for most of the content in Artifact sucks. Update: Another annoyance: Because Artifact is using a custom web view rather than Safari’s embeddable view controller, you don’t get password autofill. I happily pay for subscriptions to over half a dozen sites, but I don’t know the passwords for any of them, because I rely on autofill from iCloud Keychain in Safari or Safari’s embeddable view controller. In some ways Artifact feels like it’s just a subpar web browser with decent suggestions for what to read.

Instagram was an instant sensation because it was obviously such a premium experience. Great photos, with cool filters (which filters were necessary to make phone camera pictures look great a decade ago), a simple social concept, all wrapped in a great app. Artifact does feel like a nice app, but the reading experience, at least today, is anything but premium. It feels cheap. And the social aspect isn’t there yet.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023