Instagram Is Taking on Snapchat’s Stories, With Some Help From PewDiePie and Ciara

2. Instagram Stories - Watching
Courtesy of Instagram

Watch out, Snapchat: Instagram is gunning for you.

The Facebook-owned photo sharing service announced a major update Tuesday that introduces a whole new way to share media through its app. New, anyway, to anyone who has never used Snapchat before.

Instagram’s Android and iOS apps will in the coming weeks get a new Instagram Stories section that allows users to share photos and video clips as part of their day’s story. Instagram stories display in full-screen portrait mode, can quickly be swiped through, and disappear after 24 hours.

These stories can selectively be shared with friends, but Instagram is also courting celebrities, and launching with quite a few to boot: Serena Williams, PewDiePie, Ciara, Kevin Hart,Calvin Harris, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, King Bach and Connor Franta are some of the better-known names to use Stories at launch.

Instagram’s head of product Kevin Weil told Variety during a recent interview that a key goal of the feature was to get Instagram users comfortable with letting go of their social media sharing inhibitions. “Instagram stories allows people to share more,” he said. Many users have this idea of their Instagram timeline as something very curated, he argued. A reflection of their photographic talent, or a place to only share the very highlights of their life. The best food they ate at fancy restaurants, the dreamiest sunsets, the most stylish outfits they have worn.

Instagram Stories is meant to be the place where everything else goes. The funny little clip that’s may be a bit shaky, the quick selfie that doesn’t have to look perfect. “People want more flexibility to share the moments between their highlights,” said Weil. The ephemeral nature of Stories makes it easier to share something without it becoming part of one’s permanent record, he explained. “You don’t have to worry about over-posting.”

Of course, ephemeral photo and video sharing is what Snapchat is built on, and Snapchat is also calling its collections of snaps Stories. Weil readily acknowledged similarities, but argued that this is where media sharing in general is going. “Stories is going to be a format that a lot of experiences are going to adopt over time,” he said.

Weil likened the format to the hashtag, which was pioneered by users on Twitter, and has since found its way to many other services, with Instagram being one of the first to officially adopt it. Giving it a different name and pretending that it was something else simply wouldn’t have made any sense, he argued.

To be fair, there are differences between Snapchat’s and Instagram’s implementation of stories. For one thing, Instagram is aiming to integrate the new format into its regular app, allowing anyone to comment on moments within a story via the service’s messaging feature Instagram Direct. Users can also decide to elevate any of the photos they took for their story and make it part of their regular Instagram timeline.

Still, the launch seems like a clear shot at Snapchat, and it may not be a coincidence that it is being rolled out under Weil’s helm. Instagram’s new product lead joined the company early this year after seven years at Twitter, where he most recently worked as SVP of product.

At Twitter, Weil got to see first-hand what happens when a product isn’t evolving fast enough. Coming out of nowhere, Snapchat managed to surpass Twitter’s number of daily active users this spring. Instagram is still far ahead of Snapchat, attracting 300 million daily actives as opposed to the 10o million plus that flock to Snapchat every day — and Instagram seems intent to make sure it stays on top.