Instagram Co-Founders Introduce Artifact, an AI-Powered News App

Instagram’s two co-founders lifted the veil on a new app they’ve been working on since they left the social media giant four years ago. 

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger describe the app, called Artifact, as “a personalized news feed using the latest ai tech.” People interested in trying out Artifact need an invitation, but they can currently sign up on a waitlist, Systrom said in a tweet Tuesday.

The entrepreneurs left Instagram in September 2018 after eight years at the Facebook-owned company. Systrom and Krieger said publicly that they exited to explore their “creativity and curiosity again,” but there were also reportedly tensions between the co-founders and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Since their departure, the duo also launched a website, in 2020, to track the spread of COVID-19. 

The release of Artifact shows how AI continues to play a bigger role in how people consume content including news on social media platforms. Popular short-form video app TikTok, for example, uses an algorithm to show users videos they might be interested in on their “For You” page. Platformer’s Casey Newton, who interviewed Systrom about Artifact, called the app a “kind of TikTok for text, though you might also call it Google Reader reborn as a mobile app or maybe even a surprise attack on Twitter.” 

Artifact users see a feed of curated news stories from publishers such as The New York Times. Once a user clicks on an article, the app will show similar stories as it learns more about a person’s reading preferences. But Systrom also told Newton that Artifact includes other features, such as a feed of news stories posted by people you follow that includes their comments about the article. Artifact also allows users to discuss current events with friends through private direct messages.

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have already embraced the use of AI to recommend posts, photos and videos to users, so Artifact will have to prove there’s something different about the new app. As Newton points out, past personalized news apps such as Zite and Pulse have failed to gain enough traction. 

On top of the stiff competition, the use of AI to recommend content also comes with mental health concerns. The Wall Street Journal investigated TikTok’s algorithm last year and found that the app was flooding teens with eating disorder content. People have also compulsively scrolled through their social media feeds for bad news in what’s known as “doomscrolling.”

Artifact didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The risks that AI could pose aren’t stopping startups from embracing the technology. Systrom told Newton that he sees algorithmic predictions as the future of social media. “What was funny to me is, as I looked around, I was like, ‘Man, why isn’t this happening everywhere in social? Why is Twitter still primarily follow-based? Why is Facebook?'” he said.

Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.

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