The founders of Instagram launched Artifact, a kind of TikTok for text

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are back.

Instagram founders, who left Facebook in 2018 Amidst tensions with the parent company, they formed a new venture to explore ideas for next generation social applications. Their first product is Artifact, a personalized news feed that uses machine learning to understand your interests and will soon let you discuss these articles with friends.

Artifact — the name stands for the amalgamation of articles, facts, and artificial intelligence — opens its waiting list to the public today. Systrom says the company plans to let users in quickly. Could you Register yourself here; The app is available for both Android and iOS.

The simplest way to understand Artifact is as a sort of TikTok for text, though you could also call it Google Reader all over again as a mobile app or perhaps a Twitter surprise attack. The app opens up to a feed of popular articles selected from a curated list of publishers ranging from leading news organizations such as New York times To microblogging on specialized topics. Click on articles that interest you, and Artifact will serve you similar posts and stories in the future, just as watching videos on TikTok’s For You page adjusts its algorithm over time.

“Every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things get really good quickly.”

Users who come in from the queue today will only see that centrally ranked feed. But Artifact beta users are currently experiencing two other features that Systrom expects will become mainstays of the app. One is a feed that displays articles posted by users you’ve chosen to follow, along with their comments on those posts. (You won’t be able to post raw text without a link, at least for now.) The second is a direct message inbox so you can discuss posts you’re reading privately with friends.

In a sense, the tool can feel like a throwback. Inspired by the success of TikTok, the big social platforms have spent the past few years chasing short video products and the advertising revenue that comes with them.

Meanwhile, like a social network from the late 2000s, Artifact sets its sights firmly on text. But the founders hope that the lessons learned more than a decade ago, combined with recent advances in artificial intelligence, will help their app reach a larger audience.

Systrom and Krieger began discussing the idea of ​​what would become the artifact two years ago, he told me. Systrom said he was once skeptical that machine learning systems could improve recommendations — but his Instagram experience has made him a true believer.

“Over the years, what I’ve seen is that every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things get really good very quickly,” he said.

So why come back now? Technically, this isn’t the duo’s first project since Instagram; in 2020, They have teamed up to create the website To track the spread of the Corona virus.

But Systrom told me they don’t want to start a new company until three things happen: One, a big new wave in consumer technology that he and Krieger can try to catch. Second, a way to connect that wave to social technology, which he and Krieger still feel emotionally invested in. And third, an idea of ​​how their product solves a problem – Systrom has always looked at technology design from a point of view What jobs can he do to its customers.

The technology that enables ChatGPT has also created new possibilities for social networking

The hack that enabled Artifact was the adapter, Invented by Google in 2017. It provides a mechanism for systems to understand language using far fewer inputs than was previously required.

The adapter has helped machine learning systems improve at a much faster pace, leading directly to last year’s release of ChatGPT and the accompanying boom in interest in AI. (Adapters are a “T” in ChatGPT.)

It also created some new possibilities for social networks. In the beginning, social networks showed you things your friends thought were interesting — Facebook model. Then they start showing you things based on the people you choose to follow, whether you’re friends or not — typical Twitter.

The innovation of TikTok was to show things using only algorithmic predictions, no matter who your friends are or who you follow. It quickly became the most downloaded app in the world.

Artifact is an effort to do the same thing but for text.

“I saw this transformation, and I was like, ‘OhhAnd this A social future, Systrom said. These disconnected graphs; these graphs that are learned rather than explicitly generated. And the funny thing for me is when I looked around, I was like, ‘Man, why isn’t this happening everywhere in society?’ Why is Twitter still primarily based on following? Why Facebook? “

Artifact will take seriously the mission of serving our readers with high quality news and information

The question is whether personalized recommendations for news articles and blog posts can bring the same viral success to Artifact that video has for TikTok. It’s Not a Knockout: In 2014, A wave of personal news apps with names like Zite and Pulse have come and gone, due to their inability to create deep habits in users. And earlier this month, Tokyo-based Smart News, which uses similar artificial intelligence technology to personalize recommendations, It has laid off 40 percent of its workforce in the United States and China amid a declining user base and a challenging advertising market.

Like most startups at this point, Artifact has yet to commit to a business model. Systrom said the ad would be clearly appropriate. He’s also interested in considering revenue-sharing deals with publishers. If Artifact becomes large, it may help readers find new posts and encourage them to subscribe to them; It might make sense for Artifact to try and make a cut.

Systrom also told me that Artifact will take seriously the mission of serving readers with high-quality news and information. Lee said this means making an effort to only include publishers who adhere to editorial quality standards. For now, the company won’t disclose every publisher in its platform, but you can search for individual outlets within the app.

Left- and right-leaning publishers included; You’ll find Fox News there, for example. But Systrom isn’t shy about the fact that the company will exercise its judgment on who belongs and who doesn’t.

“One of the problems with technology recently has been the unwillingness of a lot of these companies to make subjective judgments in the name of quality and progress for humanity,” he says. “Right? Just make the hard decision.”

He says Artifact will also remove individual posts that promote falsehoods. Its machine learning systems will be optimized mainly to measure how long you spend reading on different topics – as opposed to what generates the most clicks and comments – in an effort to reward the most engaging material.

“We basically love to build.”

For now, Systrom and Krieger are funding Artifact themselves, though I imagine they’ll soon have investors shoveling their way to their door. A seven-person team is now working on the app, including Robby Stein, a senior product executive at Instagram from 2016 to 2021.

After selling Instagram to Facebook for $715 million, Systrom and Krieger didn’t have an urgent need to get a job. So what drives them this time?

“We basically love building,” Systrom said. “There’s no other place in the world we’d rather spend our time than writing code and building products that people enjoy. I just love it.”

He said developments in artificial intelligence have also captured their imaginations.

“I think machine learning is without a doubt the best thing to work on right now,” he said. “Not because it’s detailed, but because when he knows you’re into a certain topic, and it just kind of gets you, you’re like, ‘How do you multiply some numbers together?'” “Machine learning is basically several months of things not working, then all of a sudden it works, and then it works fairly well,” said the CTO of OpenAI. “I resonate with that.”

I’ve only been using Artifact for a few hours now, and many of the features the company plans to build in are still in the planning stages. As you’d expect from Systrom and Krieger, the app really shows quite a bit of polish. Read an article within the app, and when you return to the feed, it will suggest more stories like this in a handsome carousel. The app automatically switches to dark mode at night. And when you post a link, you can choose to allow everyone to comment, limit comments to people you follow, or shut them down entirely.

In many ways, I think it’s time for this kind of product. AI is really making new things possible in consumer applications, and the collapse of Twitter under Elon Musk has created an opportunity for a team with real experience in this space to run in text-based social networking again.

To be successful at scale, I suspect Artifact is going to have to do more than just display a bunch of interesting links. even in The current low state of digital publishing, the web remains rich with interesting stories, as anyone who’s ever glanced at a list of clickbait titles below the Google search box these days can attest. Few people spend a lot of time complaining that they can’t find anything good to read on the Internet.

Yes, AI is a huge part of TikTok’s success. But like Twitter before it, TikTok has also been successful because of the way it captures it talks About the primary feed – More than a few tweets have gone viral stating that comments on TikTok are often Better than the videos themselves. Likewise, Twitter remains a primary source of breaking news in large part because it is where the elite go to discuss news in public.

This aspect of Artifact is still under construction. But if Systrom and Krieger can bring the same craftsmanship to that part of the product that they brought to Instagram, it might not be long before they forget once again to log into my Mastodon.

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