InstaSnap: When Your Museum Starts Hosting Parties. (10 Key Notes)

This is how I see Stories for Instagram.

TL;DR Instagram Stories was inevitable — because of Instagram, not because of Snapchat. But it will damage Insta’s reputation of quality over quantity. Prediction: Stories is going to be used differently than Snapchat (just as video was vs. Vine) and used less — because who has the time? — but have higher audience engagement.

If you’re even remotely plugged into social media, you’ve heard the tongue-in-cheek news: “Eyyy! Instagram came out with this neat new feature called Snapchat!” Instagram’s founder didn’t even try to hide the blatant inspiration. But that’s besides the point. A lot came to mind over the last couple of days while using both Instagram Stories and Snapchat. Notes:

1. (This isn’t about photos anymore.)

It’s funny that Snapchat is still technically described as a photo sharing app. The real magic of Snapchat is experiencing life from around the world first hand. Not cheesy tourism montages, but first-person, raw moments from very real people, often in far away places. Snapchat is essentially a lighthearted, micro-live streaming app. That’s where it’s sticky. The complex filters are extremely catchy (and impressive) gimmicks, but are gimmicks nonetheless.

As you know, all that content feels so real and unfiltered because people don’t feel pressure to polish up the content: why polish something that will disappear forever in 24 hours? Why polish something when you’re supposed to be doodling instead? It’s a recipe for fun, careless, authenticity.

So: live streaming + authenticity. That is, more engaging live streaming. Know who is big — and expanding — with live streaming? Yes, Facebook. The same Facebook that owns Instagram. The same Facebook who owns Oculus i.e. immersive experiences. The same Facebook who needs you to share as much of your life as possible.

But that’s not why this was inevitable.

2. Instagram’s evolution requires Stories.

Snapchat’s massive popularity surely played a part, but a live-streaming/ micro-sharing feature was inevitable. Instagram has followed a fairly logical product growth path. Think of it like this…

(Original) Instagram:

Mobile-first, in-the-moment, quality-over-quantity lasting photo sharing.

Instagram vs. Vine (Instagram adds 15s videos)

Video was/is exploding. Short videos especially. So Instagram expands beyond photos to include short videos. Vine is about production creativity, Instagram remains about content quality.

Instagram vs. Snapchat pt. 1 (Instagram adds inbox/chat)

Just as Snapchat adds chat, so too does Instagram. Lands somewhere between Facebook Messenger and Snapchat chat. Instagram begins shifting emphasis from content quality (by now inherent) and more toward community engagement.

Instagram vs. Snapchat pt. 2 (Instagram adds micro-live streaming / micro-sharing)

Shortly after rebranding with a revamped, more broadly social UX (weighted feed, longer videos, direct post sharing to inbox, outright positioning as a life sharing platform), it is a logical progression for Instagram to add some sort of micro sharing element. Furthering the focus on community engagement and easier, more impulsive, low-risk sharing.

3. Stories won’t be used like Snapchat is used. Context is Everything.

When a platform already has a well-defined core, its expansion is always defined by that core. When Instagram added videos, there was no way it would emulate Vine’s unique creativity: it would simply be a video-based version of its well-known photo sharing. So too with Instagram adding micro-live streaming. It will be used in the context of those same, carefully crafted posts.

4. …So much for those carefully crafted posts.

Instagram is like a museum. A cool museum, but a museum nonetheless. Pieces are carefully curated, displayed with great care and in limited number. There are often themes or styles to exhibits (accounts), and the subjects maintain a certain distance from the viewer.

Snapchat is like a well-lubricated party during your year abroad, with cheeky charades, finger painting, and a Japanese-style photo booth.

They’re pretty different. Which is why I’m so conflicted. (As much as I love a good Museum party. Shoutout to Toronto’s ROM FNL.) Imagine it the other way around, if Snapchat released a feature for posting nicer, more carefully crafted photos or videos for a permanent gallery. It would feel really out of place. Same idea.

Museum party via American Museum of Natural History

The reason I really got into Instagram was the “quality over quantity” it represented. Instead of sharing a whole Facebook album, I could share a single photo (or video), saving me loads of time, but also capturing that particular memory — whether it was a party or an entire trip — in one much more beautiful, poignant shot.

Yet here’s Instagram telling me, “nah! Don’t worry, bud! Don’t overthink it. Share more. Share as things happen!” It’s bringing me back to square one. I don’t like that. Because…

5. Who has the time?

Paradoxically, I think we’ve reached “peak sharing”. The easier and shorter our sharing, the more we share. So much so that, in aggregate, we end up wasting more time and being more distracted than with more traditional, supposedly time consuming methods.

I spent the last two days using both Instagram Stories and Snapchat, and it was overwhelming. Interestingly, it really sticks out with Stories — I felt my Instagram experience slipping from careful quality to compulsive ephemera.

6. So we won’t double-Snap.

That’s to say, I don’t think people will have the patience or interest to do micro-updates on both Instagram and Snapchat — for both the time and quality reasons above. (I feel sorry for the celebrities that will feel somewhat obliged to. Curious to see if any big names pledge an either-or allegiance.)

As a result, I’m pretty confident the following will happen:

  • Instagram will steal a decent amount of Snapchat users and, perhaps more significantly, capture a lot more who might have otherwise used Snapchat down the road. But not enough to truly hurt Snapchat.
  • Beyond that, the majority of posts will somehow relate or support existing primary posts, rather than being stand-alone journal-type entries like on Snapchat. Average users will focus on the regular posts, with only occasional Stories – again, because unlike Snapchat, Instagram has a certain speciation of quality and polish built in that will inadvertently limit care-free posting. Artists, brands, and themed accounts will use Stories more, seeing it as an opportunity to go behind the scenes of their content or connect with dedicated followers. Essentially micr0-vlogging to enhance the primary work. You may have already started seeing it happening. Like this:
  • I’m confident this behind the scenes-type micro-sharing will be extremely well-received by brands and fans alike. It’s adding a more personal layer to a relationship founded in the respect of the aforementioned curated (quality) sharing. The early numbers seem to support this.
  • Most importantly, it will allow brands to create content — perhaps more ambitiously — without the anxiety attached to it. As Joe Lazauskas succinctly put it via Contently:
But really, Instagram copying Snapchat is about one thing: insecurity.
Systrom’s comments to The Wall Street Journal make it clear that Instagram Stories’ upside is that there are no public likes or comments — in other words, there’s no pressure to look popular.
Instagram Stories eliminates the risk of a post publicly underperforming, and is basically Instagram’s answer to Snapchat Memories.
As on Snapchat Memories, brands will be able to upload a series of well-produced stories and videos from their camera roll to create a cohesive narrative on Instagram Stories.

7. Instagram can steal Snapchat’s Memories thunder.

Speaking of Snapchat Memories…

Snapchat made waves this past month by rolling out Memories. Essentially, it allowed you to save recordings privately or for later sharing inside the app, as well as allowing you to retroactively save entire stories to your account for later reflection. Of course, this was a huge move, putting Snapchat in the territory of the traditional photo sharing and storage platforms. I personally save almost all my Snaps now. I find my Snap stories to be really excellent mini summaries of a particular day or event. I increasingly see it as a journaling tool.

Here’s the thing, though: Snapchat’s colourful history, and continued use for many as a medium for sending cheeky or even vaguely NSFW recordings, make it impossible to make Memories automatic, i.e. saving all your snaps to your account by default. It would be a risky sell.

Instagram, though, has a very different track record of use cases. It’s an inherently public platform, in a way emphasized by the option for a private account. Right now it seems Stories are shared and then they’re gone. It would be excellent if I could privately browse through all of my previous Instagram Stories, and only delete them if so desired. Unlike Snapchat, there is no reason for the posts to not be saved. Instagram should leverage this (including the significant appeal of media saved in the cloud instead of precious local storage). Instagram Stories could reflect your rough drafts and behind the scenes happenings, with your posts being your final, curated memories. Do it, Instagram, do it now!

8. This might become a UX case study.

It’s extremely interesting to see how many people cite Instagram Stories as having a superior UI to Snapchat. The student becomes the teacher. This is in the context of the many times I’ve heard people label the Snapchat UI as confusing, or others who were on Snapchat but spent a long time without realizing there was additional functionality.

While Instagram already has a head-start with over 3 times as many active users, I would be very curious to see any studies that compare perception of the respective UI’s with adoption and retention and the long-term effects.

9. More room for the little guys.

I firmly believe that there is a place for the niche networks, where quality is truly prized over quantity. As networks like Instagram grow they inevitably dilute their core value prop as they go after more features and more markets. While this happens and we are inundated with more and more options and updates, we will always be enchanted and engaged with networks that feel like a pared down, impressive breath of fresh air.

10. It’s not stealing, it’s inspired innovation!

All the great minds are only standing on the shoulders of giants, all the great innovations are either directly or indirectly inspired by some other innovation. Josh Constine’s piece in Techcrunch seems to further support this. It has an extended quote from Kevin Systrom that I found really interesting. Read the article, if you haven’t already.

Facebook invented feed, LinkedIn took on feed, Twitter took on feed, Instagram took on feed, and they all feel very different now and they serve very different purposes. But no one looks down at someone for adopting something that is so obviously great for presenting a certain type of information.
Gmail was not the first email client. Google Maps was certainly not the first map. The iPhone was definitely not the first phone. The question is what do you do with that format? What do you do with that idea? Do you build on it? Do you add new things? Are you trying to bring it in a new direction?

Let’s see where they go from here. If you liked this brain dump, please give it a heart (like) below! Thanks for reading.

Mario Vasilescu is the CEO/Co-founder of Rewordly and a contributor to Catalyst Lab. Follow him for more meandering thoughts on startups, technology, society, and the future.