Artifact, the personalized news reader built by Instagram’s co-founders, has been opened to the public, no sign-up required. In January, Instagram’s creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger unveiled their latest venture as an invite-only experience. Today, Artifact is dropping its waitlist and phone number requirements, introducing the app’s first social feature and adding feedback controls to better personalize the news reading experience, among other changes.
The app’s initial version required a phone number and an invite to try out, which drove initial demand. But it also kept the app out of the hands of many potential users in the near term. The company says the waitlist included around 160,000 sign-ups. Even with an invite, users outside the U.S. couldn’t necessarily try Artifact because the sign-up required a U.S. phone number. With today’s launch, Artifact will now give users more visibility into their news reading habits with a newly added stats feature that shows the categories you’ve read as well as the recent articles you read within those categories, plus the publishers you’ve been reading the most.
In time, Artifact’s goal is to provide tools that would allow readers to click a button to show more or less from a given topic to better control, personalize and diversify their feed. In the meantime, however, users can delve into settings to manage their interests by blocking or pausing publishers or selecting and unselecting general interest categories.
Also new today is a feature that allows you to upload your contacts to see a signal that a particular article is popular in your network. This is slightly different from Twitter’s Top Articles feature because Artifact’s feature is more privacy-focused. “It doesn’t tell you who read it. It doesn’t tell you how many of them read it, so it keeps privacy — and we clearly don’t do it with just one read. So you can’t have one contact and like figure out what that one contact is reading…it has to meet a certain minimum threshold,” notes Systrom.
The launch of a brand-new app from Instagram’s founders, and particularly one focused on news, was a surprise. Artifact comes across as something like a U.S.-based version of something like China’s Toutiao or Japan’s SmartNews, both of which leverage algorithms and machine learning technology to create a curated set of news articles for each user based on how they engage with the app’s content.
Systrom argues that while Artifact is similar to these other personalized news readers in the sense that they’re all using machine learning technologies to deliver their curated selection of news to individual users, the “devil is in the details” here.
“The machine learning that a lot of what we’re doing is based on was invented in 2017 at Google. It’s called the transformer,” says Systrom. “Without that, GPT-3, 3.5, etc. wouldn’t exist. Without that, you wouldn’t have DALL-E. Without that, you wouldn’t have ChatGPT,” he explains. “So what we’re starting to see, I think, this rise in applications of this core technology, the transformer.”
In other words, new technology creates a market for new apps to emerge that may in some ways resemble their predecessors, but differentiate themselves by how they’re leveraging what’s under the hood.
Systrom compares this opportunity to the founding of Instagram, noting that there were already other image-sharing apps available when it emerged. “When we built Instagram, the iPhone 4 had just launched and we were so excited about the processing speed and also about the camera while Artifact’s personalized news reading experience is not unique, Systrom argues that the company is focused on building a better algorithm and using machine learning technologies in a way that provides a distinct experience for users.
Moreover, Artifact’s social features, including the ability to see what articles are popular in your network and the promise of future in-app discussions about news articles, sets it apart from other personalized news readers.
The launch of Artifact comes at a time when concerns over fake news and the impact of social media on news consumption are at an all-time high. A recent study found that over 40% of Americans get their news from Facebook, a platform that has been heavily criticized for the spread of misinformation.
In contrast, Artifact’s founders have emphasized the importance of accurate, quality journalism. “We believe quality journalism is incredibly important,” Systrom told TechCrunch. “We want to make sure that our algorithms and the way that we present news is surfacing the best journalism that’s out there.”
Despite this focus on quality journalism, Artifact is not without its own potential pitfalls. As with any algorithm-driven news reader, there is a risk of filter bubbles and echo chambers, where users are only exposed to news and opinions that reinforce their existing beliefs and biases.
To mitigate this risk, Artifact has introduced feedback controls that allow users to personalize their news reading experience and diversify their feeds. The company has also committed to expanding its tools in the future to give readers even more control over what they see.
Overall, Artifact’s launch is a promising development in the personalized news reading space. With its focus on quality journalism and social features, the app has the potential to provide a more engaging and informative news reading experience for users. However, as with any new app, its success will ultimately depend on its ability to attract and retain users in a crowded market.