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. 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.
Prior to the advent of the green dot, 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. For those of us who prefer a calm, less realtime experience, the fact that features like these come on by default is a bummer.
Given the grey activity status text, the status dot may not seem like that much of a change. Still, it’s one opt-out 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.
Making major shifts very gradually is the same game Facebook always plays with its products, layering 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 somehow you can’t seem to 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 not like users will be relieved that they can now see who is “online” in the app. The last time Instagram users passionately requested a feature it was to demand a return to the chronological feed and we all know how that went. Over the years, Instagram users have mostly begged that the app’s parent company not mess it up and yet here we are. The Facebookification of Instagram marches on.
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 with a mantra of “time well spent.” As users start to resent the steep attentional toll that makes Facebook “free”, it’s a shame to see Instagram follow Facebook down the same dark path.