Instagram Goes After Snapchat With New Feature for Disappearing Photos, Videos

Instagram Stories H 2016
Courtesy of Instagram

Instagram Stories is a slideshow of photos and videos that will disappear after 24 hours.

Over the last six years Instagram has become the social media home for beautifully curated photos, but the Facebook-owned app wants to shed some of its perfect image.

The company on Tuesday unveiled a new feature, Instagram Stories, that executives are describing as a place to share photos and videos of the things that happen in between life’s big moments. Essentially, Stories will act as a daily feed where people can post snapshots or clips throughout the day that disappear after 24 hours.

“There’s a lot more to life than just your big moments,” explains Kevin Weil, Instagram’s head of product. “We’re increasingly hearing from our community that they want more flexibility on what and how they can share to Instagram. They want to be able to share more to Instagram.”

With the introduction of Stories, Instagram had made a rare change to its home screen layout. Now, when people open up Instagram to scroll through posts from the people they follow, they will see a bar along the top that showcases the profile pictures of anyone who has recently posted to Stories. Clicking on the photo opens up a full-screen view of the story, which can be paused or rewound as a person watches.

To post to Stories, a person will swipe right to access a camera that can take either photos or videos. There are filters, drawing tools and other features that allow people to edit the image before it posts.

Instagram’s main feed remains the same, a point that Weil stressed. And posts to Stories can easily be turned into more permanent posts with the tap of a finger.

Unlike a generic Instagram post, Stories does not have a place to like or comment on the photos that zoom by. Instead, reactions to the posts are sent as private messages via Instagram Direct. Weil says that more than 250 million people use Instagram Direct each month, and this new feature is sure to continue to boost the number of conversations occurring via the private messaging tool.

For people with public Instagram accounts, their Stories will become viewable to anyone who clicks on their profile picture from their main account page. Stories from people with private accounts will only become viewable to those who follow them. Instagram has also added additional privacy controls to block or allow access to individual people.

If Stories sounds familiar, that’s because social media rival Snapchat introduced a nearly identical product in 2013. Also called Stories, Snapchat’s feature created a new way for an app known for messages that vanished in 10 seconds or less to promote the creation and viewing of semi-permanent content that lasted 24 hours. It has since expanded the product from personalized stories created by individual users to include Our Stories, collaborative feeds of snaps from several users that are curated by a Snapchat staffer.

Weil acknowledges that Instagram’s version of Stories is very similar to the one Snapchat pioneered. “Our belief is that the story is a very powerful format, one that’s seeing a lot of adoption and one that will be used by a lot of different apps and services going forward,” he contends, noting that it’s analogous to the News Feed that Facebook popularized or the hashtags that Twitter turned into a common feature. “Stories will be the same type of format. If you created a new app and you wanted to use a feed or use hashtags, you wouldn’t name them something different.”

He also notes that Instagram introduced Stories because of demand from its community of more than 500 million users. “People are really excited to be able to share Stories format on Instagram. That’s the basis for the product.”

Instagram, which sold to Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, has been growing at a rapid clip, jumping to more than 300 million daily active users as of June. But like many maturing social networks, the company has seen changes in how people use the app. Reports surfaced this spring that sharing was significantly down at Instagram and Facebook. It’s a problem that Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew recently attributed to the “performance anxiety” of trying to craft a photo worthy of being Instagrammed.

Meanwhile, Snapchat has been on the rise, especially with a youthful demographic that includes celebrities and online tastemakers. Its success —  150 million daily active users — has been attributed to the low stakes that come with posts that will eventually disappear.  

In an outtake of his recent cover interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom acknowledged that it was a trend he was spending a lot of time thinking about. “My whole goal with the platform is to let everyone have a visual voice,” he said in early July. “I never want to have a platform where by being big we constrain people’s voices. That’s a fun challenge to think about as a product person, and I can promise we think about it every day.”

With Stories, Instagram is taking a big step toward addressing those concerns. “You don’t have to worry about over-posting or creating the perfect video because every photos disappears after 24 hours,” says Weil. He mentions that in early focus groups people have commented that they like having this feature available on Instagram, an app where they have already established a network of friends and acquaintances with whom to share posts.

But Instagram is not just about close friends and family. It’s also become a platform for celebrities and online influencers to connect directly with their fans and open the curtain into their personal lives. A number of Instagram’s top users, including tennis star Serena Williams, comedian Kevin Hart and Vine star Andrew Bachelor, will be among the first people to publicly use the new Stories feature.