Kevin, co-founder of Instagram Systrom and Mike Krieger have already shipped a bunch of substantial updates to their news-focused app. Artifact, which launched earlier this year but already looks very different from what debuted in January. In addition to allowing users to follow writers on the platform, the latest update also provides a way for writers to claim their own profiles, upload a profile picture and fill out a bio, as well as giving them access to some basic stats. about how their work is being done with the Artifact community.
I spoke with Systrom about the new features and about Artifact’s decision to focus on serving writers as a top priority, rather than just readers or consumers. Systrom views writers as key to the growth of the platform, and also believes that Artifact can serve them in a way that no other platform or publishing paradigm has to date.
“From the writer side, it seems to me that there is this trend of writers building more freelance followers on Substacks, building more freelance followers on Twitter, just for breaking news,” Systrom said. “The real problem with all this is the lack of distribution, I mean, if you want to build a following, how do you do it?”
The idea is to create a connection layer between writers and their readers that doesn’t limit them to a single publishing platform, like Substack, and also not only works for this purpose, but is actually designed for many other things (like Twitter).
“Maybe what we could do is create this marketplace where we connect consumers with writers of the things they love to read, and we can build a following for these writers on Artifact,” Systrom explained of his thinking about where to go next. Artifact could go from here. .
Systrom immediately acknowledges that writers won’t find a following anywhere comparable to what they might have built on Twitter or Substack in Artifact right now, but notes that they only launched three and a half months ago, so naturally it will be the case. However, if you’re a writer and you check out their profile on Artifact, they may already have a following, as Artifact is automatically creating placeholder profiles for writers whose stories appear on the platform. And eventually, Systrom thinks, the inherent value of a network designed for writers and readers will dwarf the value of the systems people use now.
“Over time, you can imagine absolutely all kinds of great things happening when writers get a grip on their profiles, they understand their audiences on Artifact, they can understand who they’re targeting, which articles are doing really well and which ones aren’t. do so well,” she said. “Basically, like they’re creators on TikTok, and it all starts to make sense.”
Currently, writers who claim their profiles will be able to see how many people follow them on Artifact, as well as how many reads their articles have gotten through the app. You can see all the items that Artifact has attached to your line so far, and also get a read count per piece. Going forward, Systrom says they’ll be looking to get additional and different insights, based on the feedback they get from the community and from writers, about what matters most to them in terms of audience metrics, whether that’s the number of comments they receives an article, or when articles are cited in other prominent publications.
Systrom correctly points out that there is currently a disconnect between the public and the writers, in that the public often does not know who the writers writing about the things they love most are, except for the rarefied few who manage to build identities for themselves. . often over the course of very long careers spanning decades.
Writers, likewise, often have no idea who their audiences are or where to find them, either because those relationships are mediated through the publications they write for, or because the metrics that exist on dedicated platforms like Substack are siled. and independent of broader. readers
“What if we could be a matchmaker?” Systrom said. “Sometimes I laugh that we are a glorified dating system for content, where people effectively swipe left or right on every story they see, and the overall goal is [to] matchmaking Sometimes your relationship is with a publication, and sometimes it’s as ephemeral as an article, but we think there’s this layer that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else, which is this writer layer.”
Artifact is thus far building its algorithmic newsfeed similar to how TikTok delivers content to its users, Systrom explains. Specifically, they show content to limited groups of users to measure if it resonates. Once you find things that work, you broaden their distribution, continuing the process by broadening the scope of the things that resonate the most as you continue to expand, further increasing the distribution until you end up with a handful of “knockout hits.”
Systrom says it’s hard for him to predict what’s going to work well on the platform by looking at cues like headlines, topics, etc., but he envisions a time when they can help writers better understand what makes something resonate with their audience and provide tools to help them do so more consistently.
“Should writers be able to customize how their content appears on the platform?” she asked rhetorically, explaining how they think about their feature roadmap. “Should they be able to choose an image, should they be able to change the title, should they be able to add a writer’s note underneath for context so people are more likely to click? If you could give writers a cloak over everything they’re doing right now to boost their careers, what would you do?
The appeal also lies in providing writers with a direct relationship with their readers, regardless of where they place their writing. Freelancers already span multiple mediums, and even most copywriters tend to spend time at multiple publications throughout their careers. The few writers who build enough of a reputation to exist as a brand in their own right end up on Substack or the like, but Systrom notes that so far, it’s tended to be up-and-coming writers who are quickest to claim their profiles on Artifact. He believes that will change over time, however, and the biggest name writers will be able to come in and have a healthy audience waiting for them on the app.
“You can just go in and have these relationships,” he said. “And then again, if there’s a tool out there to boost your career through analytics, through understanding notifications, through a verified badge, and where you can communicate directly with the people who are reading your stories, that’s really it. exciting for me.”
Systrom believes that focusing on writers is the key to maximizing Artifact’s growth. I asked him why that focus versus a focus on readers. He said that of course they debated different approaches since they are both major user groups, but ultimately decided that the people who consume the most news tend to have a lot of tools they love, and have adjusted their approach to consumption in hyper- ways. specific. The best strategy, then, was to try to differentiate on the writer and publisher side, where Systrom argues there is a “lack of tools, lack of distribution, lack of analytics,” particularly in a mobile-first world.
Also, if Artifact can succeed in “overloading” the game for writers, Systrom says that will also serve to incentivize readers.
“If they love Artifact for that, we will have a very useful audience to then interact and comment on, which is unique content that you can only get in Artifact,” he said. “Yeah [writers] add sidebars to your stories, that’s unique content eventually. We don’t have public messages in the app yet, but you can imagine being able to message readers or message other writers about stories. If you can help with discovering who is linking to your content, how your content is performing, all of this means that there is an engaged power user base on your platform. And I think that allows them to become readers as well.”
From the start, Artifact earned comparisons to TikTok for its algorithmic delivery of stories, but the comparison is even more apt when you consider that Systrom and Krieger laser-focus on creators and give them what they need to reach new audiences and engage. Better with those that exist.
Of course, as with any gamble, it comes with a huge risk that it won’t work out as intended, but writers are definitely a group of creators that haven’t enjoyed the explosion of platforms and audience tools that have sprung up for those. working on video, for example. Systrom and Krieger have already changed the game for photographers – who’s to say they can’t do the same for wordsmiths too?