Congrats to Instagram on Its New Bloatware

Congrats to Instagram on Its New Bloatware
Graphic: Facebook

Like a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist, Facebook absolutely can’t stand the idea anyone would care about another company — hence its propensity to buy up or rip off anything that so much as threatens to peel away a fraction of its users’ attention. Anyway, here’s Reels, something no one asked for.

TikTok. You’ve heard of it, probably because there’s a teen in your life, or you’ve been trying to follow the incoherent shrieking of the president in recent weeks. Reels is Team Zuck’s answer to TikTok, and just like Lasso (its TikTok clone built inside of Facebook proper) it will inevitably fail and be shuttered, or end up another useless bit of bloat, like IGTV or the literally dozens of pointless widgets cluttering Facebook’s homepage.

Instagram is:

  • a beloved product

  • which makes an ungodly amount of money

  • and is decidedly not TikTok

It boggles the mind as to why Facebook can’t let those first two factors speak for themselves.

Instagram Stories is the obvious exception here: Facebook stole Snapchat’s crown jewel wholesale, and it’s now a nearly essential function of the product. However, the Story format (and, I guess, the accompanying AR filters) was pretty much all Snapchat had, and so copying it was trivial for a team as large and well funded as Facebook. TikTok (which went through plenty of trial and error as before truly hitting its stride in its current form) is feature-rich in ways that Reels simply is not, and can’t easily replicate.

The deep bench of music publisher deals that allowed, and now TikTok, to not only give creators a soundtrack but to let publishers use the platform as a subtle distribution arm? MIA. The ability to remix other creators’ content in a collaborative (or mocking) way — what in TikTok parlance is called a duet? Not available.

They also fulfil wildly different use cases. Yes, there are Instagram meme accounts. Are there TikTok users who sort of just vlog a more-polished version of their mundane lives? Probably — I haven’t looked into it because that’s boring to watch (this coming from someone who voluntarily watches hourlong videos on furniture restoration on YouTube.) They do different things and that’s OK. The single worst mistake every big tech company makes at some point is caving to the urge to be everything to everyone. Exponential growth isn’t the only measure of success.

Facebook is more or less building a crappier clone of Vine inside a profitable product no one uses for that purpose, when the unbuzzy sequel to Vine is already proof positive that such a concept has been eclipsed by a more robust alternative. Will they let it die as easily as Lasso? A measured, global rollout and the very real possibility Microsoft or the U.S. government could tank TikTok domestically suggest no. But that’s also no guarantee anyone here wants or will ever find a use for Reels.