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The ‘close friends’ list is the future of Instagram

The ‘close friends’ list is the future of Instagram


Unless Facebook ruins it

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Today, thanks to your tips, I bring you a scoop: a new app called Threads, now in development at Instagram, designed to promote sharing among close friends. I published it a couple hours ago at The Verge:

Facebook is developing a new messaging app called Threads that is meant to promote constant, intimate sharing between users and their closest friends, The Verge has learned. Threads, which is designed as a companion app to Instagram, invites users to automatically share their location, speed, and battery life with friends, along with more typical text, photo, and video messages using Instagram’s creative tools. The app, which is designed for sharing with your “close friends” list on Instagram, is now being tested internally at Facebook.

Instagram declined to comment. [...]

Screenshots reviewed by The Verge show an app that’s designed to promote constant, automatic sharing between users and the people on their “close friends” list on Instagram. Opt in to automatic sharing, and Threads will regularly update your status, giving your friends a real-time view of information about your location, speed, and more. At the moment, Threads does not display your real-time location — instead, it might say something like a friend is “on the move,” according to sources familiar with the matter.

The move comes amid Facebook’s larger pivot to privacy and an abandoned effort to build a standalone messaging app for Instagram. Messaging is a core feature of Facebook’s offering, and it’s only natural that the company will keep trying new things to ensure it retains our eyeballs.

On Twitter, many readers were surprised Facebook would ask users to share their current battery life. These folks must not be Snapchat users: on Snapchat, people love sharing stickers showing their battery life, usually as a kind of braggadocio — look at me still out here at the club, despite the fact that I’m down to 10 percent battery and Lyft is my only way home!

Location tracking is more interesting, though at the moment, Threads won’t show anyone your exact location. (You can volunteer that information on Facebook Messenger if you like, though.) Instead, I’m told, it might allow Threads to generate a status that says something like “I’m on the move.” Over time, though, you have to assume that Instagram wants what Snap has — a real-time map of user locations to enable new social behaviors. (As an aside, I’ve always wondered how Instagram could credibly clone Snap Map; the fact that it’s now remotely possible is a testament to what a good idea Close Friends was.)

Will Threads ever get a public release? Will it win if it does? Josh Constine is skeptical. I am, too, and for this reason: Close Friends, while a good and useful thing, is already showing signs of bloating. This is due in large part to Instagram itself, which regularly “suggests” new friends to add to the list. As a result, my own list has now ballooned to more than three dozen people.

The whole point of Close Friends is to reduce the cognitive overhead of publicly posting by making you confident that you are sharing to an intimate group — ideally one whose members you can mostly name. The more people that go on that list, the more mental math you have to do before you post. This was the exact dynamic, incidentally, that led to the creation of the Close Friends list in the first place! (And also spurred the phenomenon of the Finstagram before it.) As the list swells, users may become less willing to share (automatically, no less!) the more intimate types of data Facebook is requesting here — location, movement speed, and so on.

And that’s a tough problem, because messaging apps are only really useful if you can reach a large number of people on them. (Beta testers didn’t want to use Direct even though they could reach their entire Instagram graph there.) Instagram’s incentive here is to get you to have lots and lots of close friends — but it’s not clear that actual human beings have the same incentives. To lure people into using Threads, Instagram may have to create other incentives that simply aren’t in the app yet. They still might — that’s what a beta testing period is for, after all.


Thanks to everyone who wrote in with feedback about our newer, slimmer format around here. I’m still working to find the balance between being comprehensive and being digestible, and hopefully I’m getting a little closer each today.

Today, I offer you a smaller tweak: new section names. Over nearly two years of writing The Interface, I realized that the post-column links really fall into two categories. There are links about governance, whether by states or by platforms; and then there are links about industry: business performance, executive comings and goings, product launches, emergent app behavior, and so on.

As of today, the sections formerly titled are retiring. In their place you’ll find Governing and Industry.

More fun tweaks coming soon.


⭐ Privacy concerns are getting in the way of Facebook sharing with researchers data needed to understand polarization and propaganda, Craig Silverman reports at BuzzFeed. There are very real trade-offs here, and it’s not a big surprise to me that Facebook is being extra cautious about what user data it’s giving away to third parties.

Another source with knowledge of discussions involving Facebook, Social Science One, and funders said the core frustration is that Facebook has degraded the quality and depth of the data it will offer, while taking much longer than expected to deliver.

“I think the only way to feel reasonably confident about this project is if you ignore what’s happened over the past 16 months. If you step back and look where we started and where we are, it’s a pretty big step-down,” said the source, who was also not authorized to speak publicly.

Facebook will not face new restrictions on data collection in Germanywhile a court case is pending. (Joseph Nast / Reuters)

Sen. Jon Kyl defends the recent audit of purported bias against conservatives in Facebook’s product, which he led. “I’ve been a little disappointed by folks who don’t appreciate the value of simply getting the conservative complaints heard,” Kyl said. “It’s not easy with a great big company like Facebook with all the other stuff that they’re doing, but they at least recognize the fact that they were missing information that they needed, and they hired us to get that information.” (Heritage Foundation)

Three Libra backers are reportedly considering backing out of the projectover regulatory pressure. (Other Libra backers refuse to voice any public support for it.) (Daniel Palmer / CoinDesk)

Facebook banned the Epoch Times, a popular pro-Trump news outlet, from buying ads after it apparently misrepresented itself during the purchase process. (Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins / NBC News)

Google banned political discussion on internal mailing lists. Good luck moderating that! (Annie Palmer / CNBC)

US federal agencies are sending employees articles from white nationalist and conspiracy websites. (Hamed Aleaziz, Ryan Mac, and Jeremy Singer-Vine / BuzzFeed)

A new document (that some say holds the potential for confusion!) has emerged to give us all fresh reason to contemplate Cambridge Analyticaagain, because why not. (Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge)

Researchers are using machine learning to generate fake United Nations speeches, with pretty good results. (Karen Hao / MIT Tech Review)

Australia “will block access to internet domains hosting terrorist material during crisis events and will consider legislation to force digital platforms to improve the safety of their services.” (Allison Bevege / Reuters)

Here’s a data analysis of when Chinese state-run media began to promote disinformation about the Hong Kong protests. (Recorded Future)

Smartphone users in emerging economies have more diverse social networks than those who do not, according to new research from Pew. (Sarah Perez / TechCrunch)


⭐ Facebook is conducting a review of 600 marketing partners after one of them was caught scraping public posts to build massive databases of user information and selling off access. The practice is thought to extend far beyond the one who was caught, Rob Price reports:

The findings raise significant questions about Facebook’s due diligence in policing apps that use Instagram data. While the vast majority of the companies identified by Business Insider were not Facebook Marketing Partners, they all openly advertised services that appeared to flout Instagram’s rules, and a single reporter at Business Insider was able to track them down in the space of about a week. Instagram’s historic inaction has also created an uneven playing field for companies that rely on it, with firms willing to break its rules and benefiting from an unfair advantage over those that choose to comply with Instagram’s policies — even if the firms are putting their employees’ livelihoods at risk in the process.

Instagram’s historic inaction has also created an uneven playing field for companies that rely on it, with firms willing to break its rules and benefiting from an unfair advantage over those that choose to comply with Instagram’s policies — even if the firms are putting their employees’ livelihoods at risk in the process.

YouTube will remove violent videos that are targeted at children. (Nick Statt / The Verge)

YouTube will not negotiate with the organizers of a YouTuber union. (Bijan Stephen / The Verge)

Members of Twitter’s independent Trust and Safety Council say Twitter is neglecting the project. Look, Twitter is neglecting a lot of things. Get in line! (Louise Matsakis / Wired)

This online pharmacy used Twitter to gin up an outrage campaign against CVS. (Emma Court and Lydia Ramsey / Business Insider)

After Snap departed Venice Beach, it was replaced by homeless encampments. (Daniel Hernandez / New York Times)

Is Google’s latest proposal about cookies an attempt to gaslight us on privacy issues? (Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan / Freedom to Tinker)

And finally ...

Gilbert Gottfried reads a poem

Kareem Rahma is an Instagrammer with a delightfully mischievous Instagram gimmick. Using the service Cameo, which lets you pay celebrities to record short videos saying whatever you want, Rahma has been having people like comedian Gilbert Gottfried read poems to create his work. He calls them “fake deepfakes” — the next shot across the bow in the war between fact and fiction.

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