Four years after leaving Facebook (now Meta (META)), Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom returned to the startup game earlier this year with a new venture called Artifact, a mobile news aggregation app that leverages artificial intelligence to create a personalized news reading experience.
Speaking onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco yesterday (Sept. 21), Systrom said his goal with Artifact—whose name represents a fusion of articles, facts and artificial intelligence—is to address an information consumption crisis in a world where recommendation algorithms largely dictate what a person sees on the internet.
“Information consumption, with news consumption at the peak, is an enormous problem today,” Systrom said. “What’s true? Why is someone sharing this? Should I believe it? Those are the types of questions we ask every single day when consuming news.”
Systrom, 39, is running Artifact along with his old business partner, Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger. The duo sold their photo-sharing app to Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion just two years after its launch. They continued to run the app following the acquisition until leaving the parent company in 2018, reportedly over a disagreement with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Instagram’s future.
It’s a stressful thing to start a new company after a huge success like Instagram. “Let’s be honest, how do you surpass Instagram?” Systrom said. “You start something because you believe there’s a problem to be solved in the world. You start something because you love building.”
Systrom’s idea to improve the overall news consumption experience is to create an app that can filter through clickbait headlines and surface news articles that actually provide valuable information. To that end, Artifact uses machine learning algorithms to summarize news articles, rewrite some headlines in more factual ways, and personalize news feeds based on users’ interests.
Just last week, Artifact launched a feature called “Links” that allows users can drop in any content they find interesting in a dedicated tab and let algorithms decide whether and how to distribute.
“It’s important to level the playing field of titles to make sure that clickthrough rate isn’t somehow exaggerated by headlines, which it often is,” Systrom said. “I think there’s a level of quality—or at least a level of integrity—that we’re trying to shoot for editorially speaking, to make the experience much more than just plane accidents and stuff that draw a lot of eyeballs and clicks.”
A news aggregation app is by no means a groundbreaking idea in 2023. Artifact faces competition from Big Tech-owned rivals like Apple (AAPL) News and Google (GOOGL) News as well as upstart ones like Techmeme and SmartNews. But Systrom believes there’s room for Artifact to succeed and even expand beyond news if done right.
“When Instagram started, people were like, ‘Oh, a photo-sharing site, haven’t those been done a thousand times?'” he said. “It’s true. But what was different was that we added creator tools, we were mobile-only, and we were focused on the iPhone. So if you change enough of those bits, you can take an idea from the past, change the game, be good at it, and it works really well.”
And news is just the start. “Distribution of content via artificial intelligence is the future to me. And I don’t think you should be limited to short-form video, news or links.”