In June 2017, Instagram announced that it had started testing a feature called "favorites", which was an attempt to reinvent…
In June 2017, Instagram announced that it had started testing a feature called “favorites”, which was an attempt to reinvent the list of friends and encourage people to share more by allowing them to submit to a more limited group of their followers. In response to the appearance of “Finstagrams” – private accounts followed only by one’s closest friends – the company tried to give users more private sharing tools with a variety of features that affected almost all parts of the app.
Almost 18 months later, Instagram’s twist on private sharing has emerged and it looks very different than it did in 201
7. Now called “close friends”, the feature will be limited to Stories. And while it has been stripped of its former incarnation, close friends could recreate the social dynamics of Instagram.
To use the new feature, open the Stories camera and take a photo or video. When you finish your shot, you notice a new green circle with a white star in it. Tap it and you will come to the friend list where you can add people to your inner circle. Instagram will suggest friends to you based on the people you interact most with, or you can use a search box to complete your list. In testing, people usually put around a dozen people, says Robby Stein, Product Manager at Instagram.
When your list is complete, you can share your close friends by touching the green circle when taking a photo or video for Stories. (My product feedback: This button is small and would greatly benefit from enlargement.) Once you’ve done that, your close friends will see a green ring around your story in the box at the top of the feed. It’s a visual signal that a close friend has shared something more private with you, and it should stand out from the usual pink purple slings.
Friends may never be notified that you have added them or removed them from your list. Unlike a Finstagram, people can not ask to join your circle of close friends. If they are on your list, they’ll see the green rings when you send to your close friends. If they are not, they will not. But you will still maintain “credible deniability,” says Stein, as most people will only assume you have not written anything to your close friendship group.
Friend lists are not a new idea – and most social networks, they have not succeeded. As I wrote in 2017:
Years ago, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley told me that the user’s highest request had been an option to make check-ins visible only to small groups of friends. Foursquare built the feature, Crowley told me, but hardly anyone used it.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has its own friends lists. But their implementation has always been a bit clumsy and they seem to be relatively underused. Twitter lists differ because they are public, and the company has not made improvements to them for many years.
“This is a bad nuts to crack, partly because social networks are dynamic,” says Stein. People can be a close friend one day and drift away from you over time. For Instagram, it meant adding and removing people to the list must be as socially pain free as possible. The company hopes that by deleting the list of all messages outside the green ring, it will be good to let people share with smaller groups.
And I suspect that close friends will not be the only one who uses “close friends”. It is easy to imagine brands that create fan clubs or VIP lists where people can choose to get additional posts. Instagram has not built any special tools to allow publishers to handle these lists, but I wonder if the brands will not press the company in time to let them use the list of close friends for business purposes.
Meanwhile, I’m glad that close friends have finally arrived. When more people move from Facebook to Instagram, the app has begun to face the same problem with contextual convergence as the parent company’s flagship makes. When you send photos at the same time to your best friend, ex-girlfriend, colleagues and someone you met at a wedding, you are likely to share less and less. That is why I find the application in the app about how many have seen my Efemic Instagram Stories to be so consistently broken. The vast majority of these people never interact with my stories and leave me with a constant impression that I’m just crawling.
In order for Instagram to continue to flourish, it must cut out a space for real friends to keep in touch. Close friends are a welcome step in that direction.