Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have already shipped out a ton of substantial updates to their news-focused app artifact, which launched earlier this year, but already looks very different from what debuted in January. In addition to allowing users to follow writers on the platform, the latest update also allows writers to claim their own profiles, upload a profile picture and fill out a biography, and gives them access to some basic stats on how their work is being viewed. performed with the Artifact community.
I spoke with Systrom about the new features and about Artifact’s decision to focus on serving writers as a top priority, rather than just readers or consumers. Systrom sees writers as key to the platform’s growth, and he also believes that Artifact can serve them in a way no other platform or publishing paradigm has done to date.
“From the writers’ side, it feels to me like there’s a trend of writers building more independent followers on Substacks, building more independent followers on Twitter, just for breaking news,” Systrom said. “The real problem with all of these is the lack of distribution, which means if, if you want to create a following, how do you do it?”
The idea is to build a connection layer between writers and their readers that doesn’t limit them to just one publishing platform, like Substack, and that also not only works for this purpose, but is actually designed for countless other things (like Twitter).
“Maybe we can create this marketplace where we match consumers with the writers of the things they like to read, and we can build a following for these writers on Artifact,” Systrom explained of their thoughts on where Artifact could go from here . .
Systrom immediately acknowledges that writers won’t find followers anywhere comparable to the ones they might have built now on Twitter or Substack on Artifact – but he notes that they only launched three and a half months ago, so of course they will the case. If you are a writer and you verify your profile on Artifact, you may already have followers, as Artifact automatically creates placeholder profiles for writers whose stories appear on the platform. And ultimately, Systrom thinks that the value inherent in a network designed for writers and readers will eclipse the value of the systems people now use to do so.
“Over time, you can absolutely imagine all sorts of great things happening when writers manage their profiles, understand their audience on Artifact, are able to understand who they care about, which articles are doing really well and which aren’t. do it so well,” he said. “Basically, like they’re a creator on TikTok — and it all just starts to make sense.”
Currently, writers who claim their profile can see how many people follow them on Artifact, and how many times their articles have been read through the app. You can view all the articles Artifact has added to your byline so far, as well as get a number of reads per item. Going forward, Systrom says they’ll strive to surface additional and different information, depending on the feedback they get from the community and from writers, about what’s most important to them in terms of their audience metrics — whether that’s the number of comments an article receives, or when articles are cited in other publications is important.
Systrom rightly points out that there is currently a divide between audiences and writers, in that audiences often don’t know who the writers are who write about the things they love most – with the exception of the rare few who succeed build an identity for themselves. often over the course of very long careers spanning decades.
Writers also often have no idea who their target audiences are or where to find them, whether it’s because those relationships are established through the publications they write for, or because the metrics as they exist on dedicated platforms like Substack are isolated and independent of wider readership.
“What if we could be a matchmaker,” Systrom said. “Sometimes I laugh at the fact that we are a glorified content dating system, where people effectively swipe left or right on every story they see — and the whole purpose is matchmake. Sometimes you have a relationship with a publication, and sometimes it’s as ephemeral as an article, but we believe there’s a layer that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else, which is this writer’s layer.”
Artifact so far builds its algorithmic news feed in the same way TikTok serves content to its users, Systrom explains. Specifically, they show content to limited groups of users to gauge whether it resonates. Once you find things that do broaden their distribution, you continue the process by expanding the range of things that resonate most as you continue to expand, further increasing the distribution until you have a handful” knockout hits”.
Systrom says it’s hard for him to predict what’s going to work well on the platform by looking at cues like headlines, topics, etc., but he envisions a time when they can help writers better understand what makes something resonate with their audience. audience and resources to help them do so more consistently.
“Should writers be able to customize how their content appears on the platform,” he asked rhetorically, explaining how they feel about their feature roadmap. “Should they be able to choose an image, should they be able to change the title, should they be able to add a writer’s note underneath as context that makes people more likely to click through? If you could give writers an extra layer on top of everything they’re doing now to boost their careers, what would you do?”
Its appeal also lies in providing direct relationships between writers and readers, regardless of where they post their writing. Freelancers already have multiple outlets, and even most staff writers tend to spend time at different publications during their careers. The few writers who have built up enough reputations to exist as brands in their own right end up on Substack or something similar, but Systrom notes that so far it’s the emerging writers who are more likely to claim their profiles on Artifact. However, he thinks that will change over time, and bigger name writers will be able to walk in and have a healthy audience waiting for the app.
“You get to just walk in and have these relationships,” he said. “And then, again, if there is a tool to boost your career through analytics, through understanding notifications, through a verified badge, and where you can communicate directly with the people who read your stories, I find that all very exciting. ”
Systrom sees the focus on writers as key to maximizing Artifact’s growth. I asked him why that focus versus a focus on readers. He said of course they’ve debated different approaches since both are major user groups, but in the end they’ve decided that people who consume the most news tend to already have a lot of tools that they love, and they’ve changed their approach to consumption in hyper-specific ways. So the better strategy was to try and differentiate on the writer’s and publisher’s side, where Systrom argues there’s a “lack of tools, a lack of distribution, a lack of analytics,” especially in a world where mobile is a priority.
Plus, if Artifact succeeds in “supercharging” the game for writers, says Systrom, it will boost readership as well.
“If they like Artifact for that, we have a very helpful audience to interact and comment on next, which is unique content that you can only get on Artifact,” he said. “Whether (writers) add sidebars to their stories, that’s ultimately unique content. We don’t have public posts in the app yet, but you can imagine messaging with readers or messaging with other writers about stories. If you can help discover who is linking to your content, how your content is performing, it means there is an engaged group of power users on your platform. And I believe that you can also become readers as a result.”
Out of the gate, Artifact earned comparisons to TikTok for its algorithmic delivery of stories, but the comparison is even more apt when you consider that Systrom and Krieger are laser-focused on creators, giving them what they need to reach new audiences and better at contact existing ones.
Of course, as with any bet, it’s one that carries a high risk of it not working as intended, but writers are definitely a creator group that hasn’t enjoyed the explosion of platforms and audience tools that have sprung up to work in video, for example. Systrom and Krieger have already changed the game for photographers – who’s to say they can’t do the same for wordsmiths too?