Michael Calore: Probably never. Close to never.
Lauren Goode: Well, in this case, I think you might actually agree with them because I’ve heard you talking about your Instagram experience lately and it seems like it’s not very good.
Michael Calore: Right. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to open Instagram these days.
Lauren Goode: Why is that?
Michael Calore: Well, I’d love to tell you all about it.
Lauren Goode: All right. Let’s talk about it.
[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
Lauren Goode: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.
Michael Calore: And I’m Michael Calore. I’m a senior editor at WIRED.
Lauren Goode: And we’re joined this week by WIRED senior writer Kate Knibbs, who’s calling in from Chicago. Hey, Kate. Welcome back to the show.
Kate Knibbs: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Lauren Goode: It’s always great to have you on. OK. So today we’re getting “reel,” which is to say, we’re talking about Reels, the TikTokification of Instagram. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram lately, you’ve probably found yourself in an endless feed of videos instead of photos. And those videos are known as Reels. Sometimes they might even be Reels from people you don’t even follow.
So what is happening to Instagram? The short answer is it’s becoming a clone of TikTok. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook wants to be all things social media, which means it sometimes blatantly copies other popular apps like TikTok or Snapchat. Kate, you’ve had some thoughts about Reels. You’re writing about it for WIRED.com this week. Why is this happening?
Kate Knibbs: Well, the short answer of why it’s happening is because Meta wants to survive and thrive and the company thinks the best way to do so is to rip off TikTok. They do have somewhat good reason for thinking this might be successful. If you remember, Instagram blatantly ripped off Snapchat when it created Stories and that feature ended up being a huge success. So I think that’s the same thought process that’s led us into this hellscape of Reels.
The big difference here, which is what I’m writing about and what we’re all annoyed about, is that Reels is bad. Instagram Stories was a superior version of Snapchat’s functionality, actually. Instagram stole from Snapchat, but they made it better, and that’s why people liked it. What’s happening with Reels, and I know that they’re doing something similar on Facebook, but I honestly try to use Facebook as little as possible so I’m not familiar with what they’re doing over there, but Reels is an attempt to rip off TikTok to basically port over TikTok’s functionality onto Instagram, to convince people not to close the Instagram app and to open the TikTok app, but rather to just stay on Instagram.
But that’s not what’s happening in reality. From my point of view, anyways, what’s happening is, I’m opening Instagram and being angry about seeing all these videos I don’t want to see, and then closing and going to TikTok and not even really lingering on Instagram for the reasons that I thought I wanted to open Instagram, which was to see photos of my friends and family.