Instagram used to be as simple as its name: a single photo, delivered instantly. Ease of use was part of the app’s appeal, not only for the photographer slapping pretty filters onto their pictures, but for the viewer scrolling through a straightforward chronology of their friends’ visual exploits. Instagram was coherent, controlled, and serene.
But if the arc of social media platforms has taught us anything, it’s that they bend toward chaos. First came Instagram’s ads, a fair economic trade-off for a free service. Then came the algorithmic feed, a decidedly non-instant way to surface popular content that keeps people glued to the platform, to serve more ads. And now, according to The Next Web, Instagram is testing a regram button … which would help spread the most shareable grams even further, to keep people more engaged on the platform, to serve more ads.
The regram button would probably work the same way the function does on other social networks—come across a post in your timeline that you want to share, mash a button, and place it in the timelines of every user that follows you (Instagram did not respond to a request for comment). That’s a use case that makes sense on Twitter, which primarily functions as a way for people with weak or no social ties to spread information rapidly. But Instagram users primarily follow people they know in real life rather than strangers, according to a 2015 study by Pace University. And with all due respect to my friends and family, I want nothing to do with the stuff y’all are clogging your own feeds with.
In a regrammable world, my timeline will start looking less like a visual documentation of my friends’ lives and more like the unrestrained lawlessness known as Instagram’s Explore tab. My Explore tab currently features a picture of Barack Obama cradling a baby, a video of a Formula 1 car doing a double donut at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and a whose-butt-is-bigger comparison of Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj. These posts are aggregated using a mysterious formula that takes into account posts liked by me, posts liked by people I follow, and probably the overall popularity of a given post in the Instagram community. The end result is a pop culture menagerie whose only prevailing logic seems to be “what if every proper noun rattling around in your brain could be monetized as Content, again.”
If I wanted to see that stuff in my timeline, I’d follow those accounts. One reason Instagram has survived 2017 without dissolving into a brain-splitting cacophony is because individual users retain more control over their experience than they do on Facebook and Twitter. Memes (besides meta-memes about Instagram) have a tough time going viral. Breaking news typically stays outside the boundaries of the square photo frame. No one can dive-bomb my timeline with the latest social media missive from Donald Trump. (He has 8 million Instagram followers—who knew?) Don’t we deserve to have this one, tiny reprieve? This one nice thing?
While Instagram finds more ways to mix the posts we actually want with posts algorithms deem popular, Snap is trying to grant users more control over their experience. On Wednesday, the company announced a dramatic redesign that will fully separate user-generated content by friends (the stuff we want) from Discover content by brands and influencers (the stuff we look at when we’re bored that actually makes money). The two types of media will be split on separate screens within the Snapchat app. Snap is doing this because poor quarterly earnings and constant feature-cribbing by Instagram have forced it to stake out a new path. But it’s a positive change for users that should make the nonstop noise of social media optional rather than the price one must pay in order to interact with their friends.
Still, Snap remains the business with the cratering stock price, while Instagram is the one whose parent company is worth $500 billion. There’s little reason to think a regram button wouldn’t help Instagram make more money. The business reasons to introduce the regram button are obvious. It would be a great feature for celebrities, media outlets, and other brands hoping to insert their messages in the feeds of more ordinary people. Those large accounts could probably then be encouraged to buy more ads. And users, served with more algorithmically irresistible catnip, are likely to be more engaged too (even if regrams of models only make them increasingly miserable). But just because a product becomes more of a time suck doesn’t mean it’s improving as a user experience. Keep Instagram simple. Keep Instagram (somewhat) instant. Keep regrams out.