Instagram stops trying to be TikTok, for now

The platform's head, Adam Mosseri, confirmed in an interview that changes which made the app look like it was morphing into TikTok will be paused, at least for the time being.

Earlier this week, Instagram head Adam Mosseri admitted that despite user backlash, Instagram would slowly morph into a platform that focused more on video content than photos. It was a stark change, one that you simply couldn’t see happening when Instagram was originally founded. The video Mosseri posted admitting the change was almost an accidental response to Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian who both shared a viral meme earlier this week that called to “Make Instagram Instagram Again” after a preview version of a redesigned feed started rolling out which made both photos and videos appear full-screen. (Mosseri says he recorded the video prior to the celebrities sharing the meme but waited to upload.)

The TikTok-ification of Instagram has been a slow burn since TikTok blew up in 2020, with Instagram doing its best to compete with things like the introduction of Reels and creator funds. But quickly people caught on that Instagram seems to be more interested in becoming TikTok rather than competing with it. More and more “recommended” posts are appearing in feeds and in Stories, it’s harder to find the latest pictures and videos your close friends upload, and odd UI tests such as the latest full-screen content attempt are jarring and disliked by many.

Mosseri even admitted that no one seems to like these tests. In a new interview with Casey Newton in his Platformer newsletter, Mosseri said that “[regarding] the new feed designs, people are frustrated and the usage data isn’t great. I think there we need to take a big step back, regroup, and figure out how we want to move forward.”

This is the quote that’s driving all of the latest headlines around Instagram: it’s promising to listen to the overwhelming feedback from users and backpedal some of its changes. Essentially, Instagram will pause its efforts in becoming a TikTok clone and reevaluate moving forward.

“I’m glad we took a risk — if we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough,” Mosseri said. “[When] we’ve learned a lot, then we come back with some sort of new idea or iteration. So we’re going to work through that.”

The groundwork Instagram will lay to fix things will be in two key areas: the UI and recommendations. Mosseri says the new full-screen UI test will be paused immediately, which could mean that users who are experiencing the change will see their feeds revert to the previous style. Meanwhile, recommendations in your feed will be ramped down significantly so that you can enjoy the content you intentionally followed people to see.

Mosseri’s efforts to correct this seemingly temporary distaste in Instagram contradicts what Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg just said during the company’s Q2 2022 earnings call, in which he stated that both Instagram and Facebook would double the amount of recommended content people find in their feeds by the end of next year. According to Zuckerberg, the percentage of content that’s recommended to users is about 15 percent, which would mean 30 percent of your feed could be stuff you didn’t actually ask for.

This is part of a broader change Facebook is trying to usher in to respond to the dominance of TikTok. The platform will change how its algorithm works by recommending more content from accounts you don’t follow but will hopefully like. Called the “Discovery Engine,” Meta will lean heavily into artificial intelligence (like TikTok does) to build a more engaging user experience to attract younger audiences who have abandoned the platform.

While that’s happening behind the scenes at Facebook, it’s unclear where Instagram will land in terms of an AI-driven feed. Newton’s interview with Mosseri seems to indicate that Instagram will continue to deliver more video content as time progresses, seeing as that’s the content format with the most engagement overall. He also believes that recommendations will further foster the careers of creators and help grow their audiences.

That’s all very true. If no one’s following you, you want all the exposure you can get, and Instagram’s recommendations can be very beneficial. In addition, videos are extremely more popular in this day and age of short attention spans that only seem to be fulfilled by jump cuts and 25-second comedy routines.

But there’s certainly user demand for Instagram to be a more unique place to go rather than a full-blown TikTok clone. The app is already crowded as it is – there’s Reels, there’s Stories, there’s an entire shopping section, there’s horizontal video support, there’s DMs, there’s live videos, there’s carousals – and trying to build a replica of another social media app into that mess seems to only turn people off.

It’s also not like Instagram doesn’t have any growth. Back in December, the platform reported it now has two billion active users, and there’s been no indication that that’s come to a stand-still.

For now, Instagram is hitting the breaks and reevaluating how it wants to go about competing with TikTok. Whether it decides to go back to its roots of a more communal approach to social media or a worldwide viral-video-generating site like YouTube remains to be seen. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become TikTok, because it’s always nice to have a little competition in such a monopolistic industry.