The Instagram founders' news aggregation startup Artifact will shut down

Image credits: the tool

the tool, the news aggregator turned social network from the founders of Instagram, will be shutting down. The startup announced on Friday Via blog post It made the decision to “scale back operations” of the app that launched more than a year ago, saying the market opportunity wasn't large enough to justify continued investment.

The team quickly iterated its product from a SmartNews-like news reading app to a news curation and discovery platform where individual users could become creators of sorts, finding interesting gems from around the web that others could like and comment on. It also used several AI tools to summarize news, rewrite clickbait headlines, and surface the best content. However, the list of changes may have diluted the original value of the product, which was a simple news app that could accept built-in offers on users' phones, such as Apple News. The end result was something closer to replacing Twitter — but that's a market with many competitors, including, in fact, Meta's Instagram, which launched a Twitter/X competitor called Threads.

In a blog post by Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram and Artifact, he wrote that acknowledging the reality of the market is something startups often fail to do, but “making the hard decision early is best for everyone involved.”

“The biggest opportunity cost is the time it takes to work on newer, bigger, better things that have the potential to reach millions of people,” Systrom writes. “I'm personally excited to keep building new things, although only time will tell what that might be. We live in an exciting time where AI is changing everything we touch, and the opportunities for new ideas seem limitless.

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To give users enough time to transition, the app will begin turning off several features, such as the ability to comment and create posts. This will help reduce your moderation efforts. Existing posts will remain visible for the time being, and Artifact will continue to operate its “core news capability” until the end of February.

The closure comes amid increased competition in the Twitter rival landscape, but also a slowdown in the use of other news aggregators, such as SmartNews. The latter had a rough 2023, with layoffs and the replacement of its CEO, while its app was losing downloads and active users. In part, the way users search for news and information is changing with the arrival of artificial intelligence. At the same time, publishers are finding that their content is overlaid with AI training data, which is then queried by users of bots like OpenAI ChatGPT — leading to lawsuits, in some cases, and licensing deals in others.

For Artifact, it hasn't quite decided what it wants it to be — a Twitter-style conversation and discovery platform, a Pinterest competitor for discovering interesting links or an AI-powered news engine. This may have resulted in a missed opportunity to capture users' attention, as users did not know how the app would fit into their usual workflow.

Despite the lockdown, Systrom says news and information “remain important areas for investment in startups,” and that he believes other “bright minds” are working on ideas in this area.

The co-founder spoke about the role of AI in Artifact at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference held last fall in San Francisco. There is a video of this talk below.

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