Instagram comes crawling back
The app is walking back some of its most hated features (but also rolling out a new one).
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Holding Myself Accountable: I did buy a shirt on Instagram while at a bar not two weeks ago. —Kate
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Last week, my Twitter timeline exploded like there had been a national event. A flurry of all-caps tweets were spreading the news: Instagram had removed the Shopping tab.
Anyone who thinks this isn’t Twitter-flurry-worthy clearly hasn’t spent the past three years accidentally clicking into the bizarre wasteland that is Instagram Shopping when they really meant to check their Activity. Instagram replaced the Activity tab with the Shopping tab in 2020 to trick—sorry, encourage—users to participate in its latest shopping push. While users can still access Instagram shops through brands’ profile pages, the change is a significant one.
Instagram wears its heart on its navigation bar. Whatever the app is prioritizing gets top billing, which is why Reels got the prime middle spot on the lower navigation bar in 2020. Conversely, it’s why, when the company re-introduced the chronological feed, it kept it buried in a tiny drop-down menu that you have to select every single time if you want to access it.
With these changes, the growing resentment of the app that I wrote about for The Atlantic in November reached its climax. The shopping push, the overwhelming promotion of Reels, the hasty attempt to copy BeReal—all these moves contributed to a general feeling of ennui among users, as the app seemed to abandon its purpose to share photos with family and friends. The booting of the Shopping tab and the shifting of the Reels tab (which has been moved to the side and replaced with the traditional Compose button) might be the closest we’ll get to an admission of guilt from Instagram.
As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez drily put it, “By reprioritizing the Compose button, users may feel subtly encouraged to return to posting photos.”
The change also may explain something BuzzFeed reporter Stephanie McNeal noticed earlier this month: People are seeing fewer Reels.
“People on social media are saying IG suddenly stopped pushing Reels so hard—and my feed has more photos than ever!” she wrote in her caption.
But Instagram’s parent company Meta hasn’t turned an entirely new leaf. It’s still indulging in its favorite activity of scrambling to copy whatever new thing another app is doing, even if it’s being done by Elon Musk. Over the weekend, the company announced it would, like Twitter, offer paid verification on Instagram and Facebook, via a $12-15 monthly subscription to Meta Verified.
I do see more of a use for this on Instagram, a defacto content creator directory, than Twitter, where people seem to buy it to fellate Musk. But like every other recent Instagram change, it still has a whiff of desperation.
I’ve yet to notice much of a change in my Instagram experience, but this is because the choices it’s made over the past five years mean I’ve been conditioned to use it less. But I haven’t left entirely. I take a melancholy tone when I write about Instagram because it is still my favorite app. It’s just going through a rebellious teenage stage: It got swept up in following the popular crowd and forgot about its real friends. But if reprioritizing photos really is an olive branch from Instagram to its users, then, like any neglected but ultimately loyal pal in a feel-good early 2000s movie, I’ll happily accept it.