It's time to unbundle Instagram

007. Field notes on consumer products

Did you know it likely took da Vinci over a decade to perfect the Mona Lisa? I think about that each time someone asks me if I'm still writing. The answer is and always will be yes.

During my retreat from writing, I’ve quietly watched and participated in conversations about NFTs, social money, and creators with distinct awe at how quickly these worlds have progressed. It’s one thing to write about a topic and completely another to live it. Well, my life takes place on the internet these days and with the significant time I’ve spent in intimate virtual spaces and in my head, and I've come to the conclusion that it's time to unbundle Instagram.

To be clear, I still like Instagram—I was one of four people that defended the launch of Reels—and strongly believe the platform has significant value it's yet to capture. But as Instagram matures into a modern QVC, the magic of community and connection gets lost in translation for users.

Opening the Instagram app today feels reminiscent of Facebook: noisy and bloated. If you take all the shiny features away, people log in to Instagram for three reasons: connection (close friends), communities, and commerce. In the last year, founders have begun carving out niche products that align with these three themes, whether intentionally or by chance. These founders are exploring questions of identity, connection, and creativity in today’s world. The resulting vertical companies are making things fun again and delighting consumers in ways we haven't seen since the launch of Snapchat.1

Let's take a look at some of these new companies ...

Connection (close friends)

Instagram's mission is "bringing you closer to the people and things you love." Whenever I deliberate what it means to connect on Insta today, I remember a 2018 article from The Atlantic that reported on teens using private accounts for party invites and pics. Beyond the "Close Friends" feature, users frequently hack ways to create small pockets within an app of billions of people. Those who are ready to graduate from Instagram can easily find a new home for their friend groups using the apps below:

  • Dispo,2 inspired by disposable cameras, helps people live in the moment. Even more, it helps friend groups curate events and experiences. Are you into cats? There's a Dispo roll (akin to subreddits) for that. Throwing a birthday party? There's a roll for that too. You can take pictures, continue to enjoy the moment, and come back later to relive it all.

  • Honk is really unique because it mimics real-time verbal conversations. Messages are shown live as you type and there's no chat history.

  • Eternal is building a space where we value our friend groups over everything else. The team has created a really special world—I can't remember the last time I felt so free while using technology.

  • Sonar is audio, emojis, and vibes.

Communities

People often point to Reddit when discussing community platforms; I believe Instagram is underestimated in this regard. For example, I have a long-standing skincare addiction and was looking to find peers with similar interests. I went down a rabbit hole on Instagram a year ago and became a part of the skincare creator community. They are a close-knit, knowledgeable, and supportive group. Many of the skincare creators become brand ambassadors, develop their own products, and even provide services. Sadly, Instagram isn't fully equipped to support the needs of skincare and other creators. That's where the new companies building vertical communities powered by creators come in ...

  • Playbook empowers health and wellness creators to build and grow their own subscription businesses.

  • Food Supply (coming soon) believes there's a happy place where a solo culinary creator can build an online business packaged in a consumer-friendly experience.

  • Supergreat has created a community of real beauty fans sharing routines, reviewing products, and shopping daily drops.

  • Somewhere Good (coming soon) is a social platform designed for people of color to connect around the things they love.

  • Public makes the stock market social. This might seem like a reach, but the trading and financial independence retire early (FIRE) communities are ridiculously active on Instagram.

  • LIKEtoKNOW.it is the easiest way to shop looks styled by your favorite influencers. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of this platform since it feels like Insta 2.0 … RIP Polyvore, Bloglovin, and Lookbook.nu.

  • Showtime helps artists and enthusiasts discover and showcase their favorite crypto media.

Commerce

I've written extensively about how powerful Instagram is and will continue to be for shopping. Still, Instagram's standard product gives room for newcomers to provide tailored solutions. This has happened, most notably, within the thrift/second-hand vertical with apps like Curtsy and Thryft. You can read more on social commerce innovation in my last piece here.

In closing …

This is not a comprehensive list, but a conversation starter. I can’t wait to look back on this piece years from now and see how this story unravels, and the many products and experiences yet to come post-COVID. What do you think connection and community will look like in this boundless future?

Further reading

1

If you know me, you know I'll use any excuse to stan for Snap.

2

I only stand in support of the Dispo team who worked incredibly hard to redesign how we interact with social tech. The allegations against co-founder David Dobrick are completely unacceptable and it's important he and others are held responsible.