Just two: Snapchat and Instagram. Everyone has opinions about this fact, and apparently I do too, and I apologize for that on behalf of all of us.
My feelings are split in seemingly opposite directions, though, and it’s making me think a lot more about it all than I normally would about what basically amounts to some really pretty good UX work, adding some expiration timestamps to a database, and a press release. On the one hand, and the hand that agrees with probably most people I know, Instagram adding “Stories” that are almost identical in functionality to Snapchat, making the number of places that people can share “Stories” online skyrocket from 1 (one) to 2 (two) overnight means
THERE ARE TOO MANY PLACES WITH STORIES
It’s bad that I have yet another thing to “check”, and the effect of even just one friend that I care about using this new feature increases the cognitive overhead of being a good friend online, something I’m ALREADY pretty bad at for way too many people that I love and wish I could make known how special they are every day. Here is the list of things I realistically check every day:
- a number of Slack teams
Here is the list of things I wish I also checked every day:
- Peach (don’t laugh)
- the folder in my email where all the good newsletters I subscribe to go
- Facebook I guess
- a bunch of other Slack teams
When I want to share something, I have to think about where I want to do that– increasingly when Gretchen and I go places recently, I’ve noticed that she defaults to posting photos to Snapchat while I default to Instagram (this was before there were Instagram Stories– now even if I decide on Instagram, how do I decide between my Instagram feed and my Instagram “Story”??? I might stop using Instagram just because of this level of paralysis I don’t need more of in my life!)
The idea of a “Story” is a compelling one– it’s a really interesting evolution of how we present ourselves online. When you break it down, it has a number of things about it that are obvious, like the 24-hour time limit on everything you make. However, there’s something else interesting about it that I think we overlook a lot, but something that I think the people behind Peach (of all things) kinda get– when I interact with a “Story”, I’m with that person for a little while. There’s certainly a sweet spot in there somewhere– if you only have one item on your “Story”, it’s no different than a tweet or an Instagram photo, but it’s when you’ve added a number of related things to your Story in a row and I’m coming to them all in one chunk after they’ve happened that suddenly, you have my attention in a way that I think we kind of lost when we switched from writing blog posts and reading/seeing people’s thoughts in their space over to the Twitter model of reverse-chronological (or, now, Magic Algorithms order) that clusters things by TEMPORALITY (or PERCEIVED ATTENTION VALUE).
When I watch a friend go to a concert through a series of “Story” “pages”(???), it feels more like I know what it meant to be there than seeing a photo or two in a feed next to someone else who was somewhere else. When a friend talks out loud about their latest project while walking to the hardware store, or another one narrates the experience of eating spaghetti and what their relationship with food means in the middle of a crowded restaurant, I’m drawn into their experience in a way that actually feels really unique and really compelling! I’m simultaneously extremely jealous of people who are good at Snapchat stories (I could write a whole separate thing about how everything that’s wrong with me stands in the way of participating in things like this) and also wish I could sit here and tell a lot of you individually PLEASE POST MORE STORIES, I LOVE THEM, I DON’T REALLY KNOW HOW TO TELL YOU THIS WITHOUT BEING TOO INTENSE ABOUT IT BECAUSE THE ONLY FEEDBACK I CAN GIVE YOU IN SNAPCHAT IS TO SEND YOU A SNAP OR A CHAT MESSAGE WHICH FEELS LIKE COMING ON VERY STRONG
I also think discovering who is making good “Stories” is very hard, both on Snapchat and (from what I’ve seen so far) Instagram, and I hope that there are people thinking hard about this and also that some of you will tell me who are your favorite people to follow on these platforms.
But. I said that my feelings go in multiple directions on this, which is why I regret to tell you that I also need to bang this drum for a second and say
THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH PLACES WITH STORIES
When Instagram announced that they were adding “Stories”, the initial reaction was one of assuming that this move was a “rip-off”, that the idea of “Stories” somehow belongs to Snapchat. When asked for comment by the press, the response from a high-ranking public figure who works at Instagram was one comparing the idea of “Stories” to one of Facebook’s “news feed”, which this person kind of claimed transformed social media sites in a way that no one would accuse a social media site of ripping off Facebook for having a feed on the homepage with all the latest atoms of activity from your immediate network. There’s a lot to unpack there:
- I don’t think Facebook has any real claim to the “news feed” as transformative internet technology; lots of sites (Livejournal, for example, or even web-based forums) had ways to view reverse-chronological updates that would be of interest to you far before it occurred to Mark Zuckerberg to even start Facebook
- this is a Facebook employee trying to give Facebook credit for something they didn’t invent in the process of defending something else they didn’t invent
- There is probably not a better way to signal “we are Facebook and we will do whatever we want to do” than saying this instead of just dodging the question
BUT I have to say that I wonder if they kind of have a point because when I think about stories as a format, taking advantage of all the power we have to capture images and video and sound everywhere we go, and how ultimately banal the shit I churn out in 140 characters of text every day compared to this stuff is, it makes me wish that “Stories” were something far more than the fought-over intellectual property of two of the biggest and douchiest companies in California (just wait for that lawsuit, that’s gonna be a fun few weeks of tech blog post takes). If stories were something that we could iterate on in the same way we iterated on email and newsgroups and HTML, if we thought about it in terms of features that people would like and had multiple companies building clients that squeezed the most out of those features in a way that said “hey we provide the fastest, easiest way to make professional-looking Stories” or “we give you the most accessible way to catch up on Stories while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning” or “we let you group the people you want to see first every day when you check your Stories, letting you put some brands at the bottom in case you have free time to watch whatever they’re doing”… there’s a lot of room for making the idea of SHARING and VIEWING “Stories”… really really good!
Instead, though, we have this: Snapchat Stories, and Instagram Stories. I’ll probably miss your best ones. Sorry.