In a blog post today, Instagram announced a new feature: a green status dot that indicates when a user is active on the app. If you’re cruising around Instagram, you can expect to see a green dot next to the profile pics of friends who are also Instagramming right then and there.
The dot will show up in the direct messaging part of the app but also on your friends list when you go to share a post with someone. Instagram clarifies that “You will only see status for friends who follow you or people who you have talked to in Direct” so it’s meant to get you talking more to the people you’re already talking to.
Instagram already displayed how long ago someone was active by including information like “Active 23m ago” or “Active Now” in grey text next to their account info where your direct messages live.
You can disable the status info in the “Activity Status” bit of the app’s settings menu, where it’s set to on by default. Still, even after disabling Activity Status, I can see which of my friends are active now in grey text. For those of us who prefer a calm, less realtime experience, that’s a bummer and it feels creepy.
Given that, the status dot is not really that much of a change, but it’s one design choice closer to making Instagram a compulsive realtime social media nightmare like Facebook or Facebook Messenger. The quiet, incremental rollout of features like the grey status text is often so subtle that users don’t notice it — as a daily Instagram user, I barely did. But that’s the same game Facebook always plays with its products, making slight design changes that alter user behavior until one day you wake up and aren’t using the same app you used to love, but you still can’t stop using it. Instagram is working on a feature for in-app time management, but stuff like this negates Facebook’s broader supposed efforts to make our relationship with its attention-hungry platforms less of a compulsive tic.
It’s a shame to see that happening with Instagram, which used to feel like one of the only peaceful places online, a serene space where you weren’t thrown into fits of realtime FOMO because usually your friends were #latergramming static images from good times previously had, not broadcasting the fun stuff you’re missing out on right now. It’s hard to see how features like this square with Facebook’s ostensible mission to move away from its relentless pursuit of engagement in favor of deepening the quality of user experiences on its social apps. As users start to resent the steep attentional toll they pay that makes Facebook “free”, it’s a shame to see Instagram follow Facebook down the same dark path.
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