Instagram Co-Founders Introduce Text-Based App

Artifact is a news curated app

Image: Chris McGrath (Getty Images)

Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are returning to the app game with a new innovative startup since leaving the ‘gram in 2018. Artifact is a new social media platform that will provide a feed of articles and facts aimed to create a dialogue between users to discuss things of interest.

The app focuses on news content from a personalized and curated list of publishers from top news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, to smaller niche blogs. When users click on certain stories, the feed will automatically show similar articles, posts, and stories the user might be interested in.

Although the app is opening to a wider audience today, those wanting to join the app will still have to join a seemingly elusive wait list which will then send you a text containing a link to download and access the app. Once downloaded, users will initially only have access to a central ranked feed, but an Artifact beta test is underway for two added features that are expected to become vital in the app.

According to The Verge, one feature will show a feed of articles posted by people that the user chose to follow and will include commentary on the posts. The second feature is a direct-message inbox so users can talk about the posts privately with friends.

Artifact did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

The new app isn’t Systrom and Krieger’s first foray back into tech since their departure from Instagram. The pair created the website in 2020 to track the spread of covid-19. Systrom told The Verge that he and Krieger had been discussing the idea of Artifact for years, saying he was unsure whether machine-learning systems could improve content recommendations to users.

However, he told the outlet that his experience at Instagram changed his perspective, making him believe an accurate and tailored feed was possible. “Throughout the years, what I saw was that every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things got really good really quickly,” he said.

Artifact’s features can be most commonly compared to TikTok, in which the app takes an algorithmic approach to content, in this case showing users text instead of videos, but which is focused on what the user likes instead of only showing content based on who they follow.

The feature was made possible by the transformer that was invented by Google in 2017, which created technology enabling systems to understand language based on fewer inputs. It started with algorithms that showed what users’ friends thought was interesting, known as the Facebook model, before progressing to a feed based on who the user chose to follow, which became known as the Twitter model.

Finally, technology advanced enough that social media could make predictions regardless of who the user followed or who their friends are, which can be seen on TikTok, the most downloaded app in the world.

Artifact is taking TikTok’s algorithmic approach but is now applying it to its text-only app. “I saw that shift, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the future of social,’” Systrom told The Verge. “These unconnected graphs; these graphs that are learned rather than explicitly created. And 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?’”

The app will include publishers from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum, but Systrom said only outlets that adhere to quality editorial standards will be permitted to remain on the app. Artifact will reportedly work to remove outlets and posts that promote misinformation and will exercise its own judgment as to what can remain on the platform

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