One reason I love writing a column about the convergence of major technology platforms with democracy is that it feels like one of the most important things in the world on most days. But it was hard to pay the usual attention to my beat on this strangest of days in San Francisco when wildfires up and down the west coast blotted out the sun and gave the town the eerie feel of perpetual midnight. This morning my colleague Vjeran Pavic flew a drone over Sutro Tower and captured the surreal imagery. In these days, the term “apocalypse” is tossed around with truly tragic frequency, but nothing else really suits on Wednesday.
Distracting as the orange sky outside my window was, I had to pay attention to one interesting thing: a conversation I had Tuesday with Adam Mosseri, the guy who leads Instagram. The opportunity was a company announcement this morning about establishing a new “equity squad” to explore how the app can underserve various groups of people.
The team is already working on projects like “comment alerts” that will search your post and ask you if you want to tell the significance of what you’re about to tell; re-examine blackface policies and posts relevant to the Jewish community, and review the suggested guidelines of the app that decide what should appear in the “explore” tab of Instagram.
The moves come after a summer that brought racial inequality to the forefront of Facebook conversations and other companies around the world.
“I think it is a very important thing to have a dedicated team,” Mosseri said over video chat.
Surely I like what I have heard so far. The issue is whether they will maintain their influence over time — or whether their proposals will be undermined by product managers on other teams concerned about the possible effect on their intended metrics of these movements. That’s not a special problem for Facebook or Instagram — it’s a challenge for any organization that requires a dedicated team to fix something any employee may have to think about.
Mosseri also spoke to me about what promises some big improvements to the interface of Instagram: the addition of two new tabs that the company is now testing globally. One tab is for Reels, the company’s attempt to dominate the world’s short-form video room that TikTok carved out; the other for shopping, which Instagram developed in July as a dedicated site for.
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It also has a strong customer base of designers, photographers, and know-how, and it was understood that even redesigning the app logo would send them into fits.
But it’s the essence of social applications that seeks to catch some of the actions of their users is dedicated settings — whether that activity is already occurring in the app or not. On Instagram shopping is already a core activity, and having a dedicated feature makes sense. Reels is an attempt to recreate TikTok’s magic on Instagram, and it’s a rather divisive proposition.
So maybe the search button and “composer” will switch to the top right next to the Direct Inbox, the button you tap to add a new picture. Or maybe the activity stream would pop up next to your DMs, telling you who liked your posts and who followed you, and the composer floats to the left of the Instagram logo.