The duo who created Instagram have launched a new “text-based” news app, believing they can build a competitor that challenges Elon Musk’s Twitter and tackle the spread of misinformation online.
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger — the entrepreneurial pair who founded and then sold photo-sharing app Instagram to Facebook for $1bn in 2012 — have launched a new company this week called Artifact.
It is an app that uses artificial intelligence to aggregate news and lifestyle articles that users are likely to be interested in, while avoiding so-called “filter bubbles” by also promoting content that may challenge previously held views.
“[It is] a particularly timely moment both in the technology industry, with Twitter’s takeover by Elon and Facebook’s focus on the Metaverse,” Kevin Systrom, co-founder and chief executive, told the Financial Times.
“And it is particularly a timely moment to focus on text when we need it most because of people’s attention to misinformation and how we consume news today.”
The pair left Facebook in 2018 amid tensions over the growing control over Instagram being exerted by the company led by Mark Zuckerberg, and as regulators challenged the tech giant over fake news and data privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s $44bn acquisition of Twitter last year was followed swiftly by brutal cuts to about half of its workforce, including many in the trust and safety teams, which monitor and police misinformation.
Systrom said Artifact is a potential competitor to Twitter for reading news and lifestyle articles, but otherwise admired Musk’s efforts to turn round a flagging business.
“There is certainly some overlap [but] only in a particular area,” he said, adding: “Twitter is one of the most important social media properties in the world, and it deserves to have a leader who believes in it and wants to make it great. And that is all I have seen from Elon.”
Still, the recent travails of Twitter show the difficulties faced by all social media businesses, which have struggled as spending on advertising declines. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, Snap and YouTube owner Alphabet have dismissed thousands of staff in recent months, citing a depressed economic environment.
Systrom is undaunted by these headwinds. He and Krieger have declined to take outside investment and have self-funded Artifact by spending “single-digit millions” to build the platform over the past two years. The group is based in San Francisco and has just seven employees. This has meant Artifact has avoided the funding crunch that has hit Silicon Valley, as venture capital investors resist taking risky bets on cash-burning start-ups.
“Instagram obviously was a hit from day one, and we were able to raise money fairly quickly,” Systrom said. “The lesson I learned through that is that you hire your investors as much as you hire your employees, and you should choose very wisely . . . Right now, we have plenty of money in the bank, and our focus is mostly on building a great product that retains [users].”
Artifact uses machine learning to scan a curated list of publishers’ websites, ranging from news organisations including The New York Times, Vogue and the Financial Times, as well as smaller blogs about specialist interests. The more you use the product, the more the algorithm becomes personalised.
Users will eventually be able to follow other users and message friends privately as part of new features being tested. A waiting list to use the app opened on Tuesday.
The platform may display personalised advertising in future to those users who wish to access content for free, but it is also exploring paid-for options, such as subscriptions and deals with established publishers, Systrom said.
Artifact will remain a curated collection of approved sources rather than a fully social platform, as the co-founders want to ensure high-quality news and information. The company screens websites through a media bias and fact-checking process before approving them. The algorithm will occasionally deliver content that a user may not agree with, however.
“It is really important to us to dedicate some portion of the feed which we do to exploring tangential interests, other sides of issues, publishers you would not normally see,” he added.
The start-up also jumps on the hype for AI that is building in Silicon Valley, fuelled by rapid development in text-based language models such as Open AI’s ChatGPT.
“When we started Instagram, it was clear everyone was going to have a camera in their pocket. It was clear that everyone was going to share those photos in a much more real-time way,” Systrom said. “This feels like a similar wave.”
Instagram founders launch Artifact to rival Twitter and tackle misinformation Republished from Source https://www.ft.com/content/85553e43-5623-4c30-ab57-2232e250ec0c via https://www.ft.com/companies/technology?format=rss