Artifact, the personalized news app from the co-founders of Instagram, launches to the public with new features

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Artifact, the personalized newsreader built by the co-founders of Instagram, is now open to the public, no sign-up required. Last month, Instagram creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger unveiled their latest venture as an invite-only experience, promising that their news app would later evolve with social elements, such as being able to discuss the news with friends. With today’s launch, Artifact drops waiting list and phone number requirements, introduces the app’s first social feature, and adds feedback controls to better personalize the news reading experience, among other things.

When Artifact first appeared in January, the app required a phone number and invite to try out, which drove up the first question. But it also kept the app out of the hands of many potential users in the short term — the company says its waiting list was about 160,000 signups. Even with an invite, users outside the US couldn’t necessarily try Artifact because the signup required a US phone number.

That will all go away today, as Artifact will be immediately usable upon initial launch. You don’t even need to enter a phone number at all unless you want to create an account to transfer Artifact to a new device.

Systrom explains that the delay in the public launch was not just about sparking consumer interest in the Instagram founders’ next big thing, but also because the underlying technology requires a certain amount of data and a number of people who use them to provide the best experience. Now that several weeks have passed, the company believes the app is ready for a wider audience.

Image Credits: artifact

With today’s launch, Artifact is now giving users more insight into their news reading habits with a newly added stats feature that shows you the categories you’ve read, as well as the recent articles you’ve read within those categories, plus the publishers you’ve been to. most read. But it will also group your reading more closely by specific topics. In other words, rather than just “technology” or “AI,” you might find yourself reading a lot on the topic of “ChatGPT,” specifically.

Over time, Artifact’s goal is to provide tools that allow readers to click a button to show more or less of a given topic to better control, personalize, and diversify their feed. In the meantime, however, users can delve into settings to manage their interests by blocking or pausing publishers or selecting and deselecting general interest categories.

Also new today is a feature that allows you to upload your contacts to see a signal that a particular article is popular in your network. This is slightly different from Twitter’s Top Articles feature, which shows you articles that are popular with the people you follow, as Artifact’s feature focuses more on privacy.

“It doesn’t say who read it. It doesn’t tell you how many of them are reading it, so it preserves privacy – and obviously we’re not doing it with just one read. So you can’t have one contact and then find out what that one contact is reading… it has to meet a certain minimum threshold,” notes Systrom.

This way, he adds, the app isn’t driven by what your friends are reading, but can use that as a cue to highlight items that everyone else was reading. In time, the broader goal is to expand the social experience with a way to discuss the news articles within Artifact itself. The beta version, limited to testers, offers a Discover feed where users can share and like articles and comment on articles shared by others. There’s a bit of a news feed or even Instagram-like quality to dealing with news this way, we found.

The launch of a brand new app from Instagram’s founders, and especially one focused on news, was a surprise – especially given the difficulties launching a newsreader here in the US, where it would have to compete with offerings from the tech industry. giants, such as Google News, Apple News, and of course – from the founders’ former employer – Meta’s own News Feed. The latter has evolved over the years from just a stream of updates from friends to delivering news and information, and arguably misinformation, to billions of users. According to data from Pew Research, about one-third of American adults regularly get news from Facebook, posing a challenge for any new startup in the news market.

Meanwhile, Artifact comes across as something like a US version of something like Toutiao from China or SmartNews from Japan, both of which use algorithms and machine learning technology to create a curated series of news articles for each user based on how they interact with the app . contents.

However, Systrom argues that while Artifact is similar to these other personalized newsreaders in that they all use machine learning technologies to deliver their curated selection of news to individual users, the “devil is in the details” here.

“The machine learning on which much of what we do is based was invented at Google in 2017. It’s called the transformer,” says Systrom. (That’s the “T” in ChatGPT, by the way.) “Without it, GPT-3, 3.5, etc. wouldn’t exist. Without it you wouldn’t have DALL-E. Without it, you wouldn’t have ChatGPT,” he explains. “So what we’re starting to see, I think, is this increase in applications of this core technology, the transformer.”

In other words, new technology creates a market for new apps that may resemble their predecessors in some ways, but differ in how they leverage what’s under the hood.

Systrom compares this capability to the creation of Instagram, noting that other image-sharing apps were already available when it emerged.

“When we built Instagram, the iPhone 4 had just launched and we were so excited about the processing speed and also the camera that just now good enough. There was a breaking point… We stood out from the crowd because we had some differentiators and we timed it correctly,” says Systrom. “We are definitely betting on that thesis [with Artifact] – that is the technology is different.

Image Credits: Artifact personalization and statistics

For Artifact, the distinguishing features are not only the machine learning technology, but also the social features built by founders who built one of the most popular social apps to date, as well as personalization tools designed to enhance the experience with more explicit feedback.

Today, Artifact curates news from hand-selected, higher-quality publishers in various categories that meet certain integrity criteria, such as their fact-checking and correction process and funding transparency, among other factors. That means they’re not necessarily left- or right-wing sites, the company notes. And when you dive into a topic, readers are presented with a series of headlines on the same subject in an attempt to pop so-called “filter bubbles” and present a broader point of view.

The more you interact with the app, it learns what specific news is of interest to you, weighing clicks, dwell time, read time, and other signals like whether you’ve shared the feed with friends and more. Over time, the social feeds will emerge and Artifact will not only personalize news and deliver your interests, but also provide a place to discuss those topics. But the accompanying moderation headache that comes with that experience isn’t something the company’s seven-person team is ready for yet.

Artifact is based in San Francisco with a number of outside team members and is currently self-funded to the tune of “single-digit millions” by the founders. It employs five Instagram veterans, including Robby Stein, as its lead product and founders. This year, the company is looking to roll out more features to better convince consumers of its bigger thesis – that this isn’t just another Toutiao, it has something new to offer.

“I think what you can expect from Artifact in the coming year is deviating from the norm. I think people will be pleasantly surprised that there was indeed a lot of room for innovation around news and publishing,” says Systrom.

Artifact is available in most English-language App Stores and on Android.

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