“Teens and creators drive trends on Instagram”

Vishal Shah, VP of Product, Instagram at Facebook in an exclusive chat with the HT Brunch.
Hindustan Times | By Jamal Shaikh
UPDATED ON OCT 04, 2020 07:23 AM IST

Hi Vishal! Congratulations on Instagram’s 10th anniversary! What were your impressions of the filter-rich photo app when it first started?

I was a huge fan of the Instagram product from the very beginning. The simplicity and thoughtful design was clear as soon as you opened the app, but it was the little things that all added together to make the experience feel magical. For example, we started uploading the photo while you were typing your caption so that as soon as you hit ‘Post’ it would appear almost instantly. Back in 2010, this level of perceived performance, along with filters that made lower resolution photos look far more interesting, were some of the early innovations that set Instagram apart.

When did Instagram change from being a photo sharing app to one that is so much more today?

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact time, but the change happened as our platform evolved with the arrival of Stories, Live, IGTV, and Reels. Teens and creators drive trends on Instagram – from Dalgona coffee and saree challenges, to powerful social activism like #ChallengeAccepted and #ShareWithPride, to more niche trends like Urdu poetry and memes, Instagram pushes culture forward. Right now, we’re witnessing enormous shifts in how people create and consume culture as tools that were only available to the most sophisticated media organizations are now literally in the hands of billions. We’ve seen an explosion of video, which is why we’ve been focusing on IGTV and Reels.

How has the reaction to Reels been? Many say it’s a move to capture the displaced TikTok users.

We’re excited by what the community in India is creating on Reels. From Virat Kohli and Katrina Kaif, to Patna based Pawan Kumar from @artkala4u and Kolkata based Chef Kirti Bhoutika, we’re seeing a wide variety of public figures and creators using it.

Discovery through Reels is driving strong growth for creators. The fastest growing creators on reels include Jaydeep Gohil (@hydroman_333), who claims to be India’s first underwater dancer, and Surabhi and Samriddhi Mehra aka Chinki Minki. Similar to IGTV, we’re starting to see episodic content surfacing on Reels. Creators like Komal Pandey and Sakshi Sidhwani are running a series called ‘Vibe Check’ and ‘Breaking fashion stereotypes’ respectively.

“It’s really important to us that the interactions people have on the platform are genuine, and we’re working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior.”

New music is finding a place in popular culture, by being available on Reels. This includes Neha Kakkar’s latest song ‘Diamond Da Challa’ and songs from Diljit Dosanjh’s new album ‘G.O.A.T’ - creating thousands of reels with people using them.

Instagram and India: Tell us a bit about the growth of Instagram in India.

We’re excited about India because of its young demographic, vibrant culture and its roots in open expression. India was one of the first few countries we tested Reels in and recently the first country where we launched the Reels tab, which showcases the creativity and value we’re seeing here. Instagram has been an amazing way to discover Incredible India and beyond. It’s a place where public figures show up most authentically. The community has used the platform to connect back with traditions, be it yoga or vintage jewelry and start new ones like “freak shakes” and IPL. This pursuit of passions on the platform has also acted as a springboard for successes for large and small businesses, from Samsung to Swiggy.

There was a move to do away with the number of likes that hasn’t been implemented in India yet. Is that experiment still running in some markets?

Yes. We’re continuing to test this with a small number of people in our global community. We don’t have anything else to share right now.

Instagram and addiction: Today, several users spend more time on Instagram than they intend to, which could eventually result in fatigue. Any steps Instagram is taking to help guard users against this?

We have Time Spent tools on Instagram which includes an activity dashboard, a daily timed reminder, and a way to limit notifications. We developed these tools with input from leading mental health experts and organizations, as well as our own extensive research and feedback from our community.

To inspire conversations among youth all across India and initiate positive online dialogue, we run programs like the ‘Counter Speech Fellowship’ and ‘Unlabel India’, with the Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC) and Yuvaa respectively. This year we also partnered with CBSE for a curriculum that includes an Instagram’ guide for building healthy digital habits.

What is Instagram doing to guard itself against fake accounts, bots, and unregulated sale of followers and likes?

Inauthentic activity is not allowed on Instagram. It’s really important to us that the interactions people have on the platform are genuine, and we’re working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior. Services that offer to boost an account’s popularity via inauthentic likes, comments and followers, aren’t allowed as per our Community Guidelines.

Last but not the least, can you tell us a bit about Instagram’s 10th Anniversary plans. What should we expect in the 11th year?

We will continue to build for the next generation of young people and creators to ensure that Instagram is the place where culture moves forward. We also have a few product updates planned to mark the occasion -- we’re looking forward to sharing more soon.

Follow Jamal Shaikh on Twitter @JamalShaikh

From HT Brunch, October 4, 2020

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