Instagram co-founders introduce Artifact, an AI-powered messaging app

The two Instagram co-founders have lifted the veil on a new app they’ve been working on since they left the social media giant four years ago.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger describe the app, called Artifact, as “a personalized news feed that uses the latest AI technology.” People interested in trying Artifact need an invite, but they can currently sign up on a waiting list, Systrom said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The entrepreneurs left Instagram in September 2018 after eight years at the Facebook-owned company. Systrom and warriors said publicly that they wanted to “re-explore their creativity and curiosity,” but there were also reportedly tensions between co-founders and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Since their departure in 2020, the duo have also launched a website to track the spread of COVID-19.

The release of Artifact shows how AI continues to play a bigger role in how people consume content, including news, on social media platforms. For example, the popular short-form video app TikTok uses an algorithm to show users videos that might interest them on its For You page. Platformer’s Casey Newton, who interviewed Systrom about Artifact, called the app “a kind of TikTok for text, although you could also call it Google Reader reborn as a mobile app, or maybe even a surprise attack on Twitter.”

Artifact users see a feed of curated news from publishers like The New York Times. Once a user clicks on an article, the app will show similar stories while learning more about a person’s reading preferences. But Systrom also told Newton that Artifact includes other features, such as For example, a feed of messages posted by people you follow that include their comments on the article. Artifact also allows users to discuss current events with friends via private direct messages.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have already embraced the use of AI to recommend posts, photos and videos to users, so Artifact needs to prove something is different about the new app. As Newton points out, previous personalized news apps like Zite and Pulse didn’t get enough traction.

In addition to fierce competition, using AI to recommend content also brings with it mental health concerns. The Wall Street Journal last year examined TikTok’s algorithm and found that the app was flooding teenagers with content about eating disorders. People have also been compulsively scrolling through their social media feeds for bad news, known as “doomscrolling.”

Artifact did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The risks that AI could pose are not stopping startups from embracing the technology. Systrom told Newton that he sees algorithmic prediction as the future of social media. “What was funny for me, as I looked around, I was like, ‘Man, why isn’t this happening all over social media? Why is Twitter still mostly follower based? Why is Facebook?’” he said.

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