Sprinkling some Ethics on Instagram

I am inconsistent on instagram. I am very active for a few months, and then I delete the app for a few months. This time I deleted it in June, now I am back in December.

So I noticed some changes.

The biggest one – a message saying ‘You are all caught up’

It surprised me in a good way. Here is a social app which is asking you not to scroll more. But this also confuses me from a business standpoint. As this would surely lower the engagement – or, the time a user spent on the app.

Instagram 1.png
Instagram message sort of preventing you from scrolling on. Source 

I suspect this moves comes due to the time well spent movement. Around two years ago, Google’s ‘Product Philosopher’ Tristan Harris wrote a wildly popular medium post on how technology (social media, in this case) was hijacking our minds.

This post by Tristan Harris pushed people to think hard about technology

He outlined 10 ‘Hijacks’ these companies use to become successful. And they measure success by – time spent. He gives example of LinkedIn:

LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back to linkedin.com where they can get people to spend more time.

….LinkedIn turns your unconscious impulses (to “add” a person) into new social obligations that millions of people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time people spend doing it.

Also of Facebook,

Facebook wants to convert every reason you have for using Facebook, into their reason which is to maximize the time you spend consuming things.

And in general,

Tech companies often claim that “we’re just making it easier for users to see the video they want to watch” when they are actually serving their business interests. And you can’t blame them, because increasing “time spent” is the currency they compete for.

He also mentions the transgressions made by Instagram – all so that users spend more time on the app.

So why is Instagram doing something which would harm its business interests? This message will surely decrease the time spent on Instagram. The only reason I can think of, at the moment, is the growing debate about time well spent.

But I do know my Instagram experience is worse after 5 months. There are many more ads. And the comment box is weird, showing me emojis and (sometimes) hiding content.

Instagram 2.png
Get those emojis out of way, please

I guess Instagram is caught between two forces – ethics and business. On the ethics side, they want to come across as the ‘thoughtful’ app, and at the same time, they need to protect the business, hence pushing people to comment (and thus engage more), and of course, showing ads ads ads.

And this is because they built the viral product first, and are trying to add ethics ‘on top’ of it. I am not sure if this approach works very well.

This is a common mistake we make. Concept designers think about ‘Adding AI’ or ‘Adding Blockchain’ to their products. Some founders and CEOs think of ‘Adding Design’ after they have the figured out the product. And now Instagram seems to be ‘Adding Ethics’ to a product which is, at core, designed to be addictive and viral.

I don’t know how that works.

One thought on “Sprinkling some Ethics on Instagram

  1. Pingback: Better designed products – Curated Intelligence

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