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The Rise and Fall of Artifact: A News App's Short-Lived Journey

January 12, 2024

Summary:

  • Artifact, a news aggregator by Instagram co-founders, is shutting down.
  • It evolved from a news reader to a social network but lost its core value.
  • The market wasn't big enough for continued investment.
  • The app will retain some features until the end of February.
  • The shutdown highlights the challenges in the AI-powered news and social media landscape.

The Grand Idea that Didn't Stick

Remember Artifact, the brainchild of Instagram’s co-founders that aimed to revolutionize how we consumed news? Well, it turns out the revolution will not be app-ified! Artifact, the news aggregator that tried to morph into a social network, is officially shutting down. The app, which was launched just over a year ago, has decided to "wind down operations". It seems the market opportunity wasn't as vast as a desert but more like a small oasis, and not worth the continued investment.

A Journey from News Reader to Social Network

Artifact started its life as a news reader app, akin to SmartNews. However, it quickly evolved (or mutated, depending on how you look at it) into a curation and news discovery platform. It allowed users to transform into creators by digging up interesting web content. Think of it as digital archaeology, but instead of finding ancient artifacts, users found catchy headlines and stories.

This platform employed various AI tools to summarize news and rewrite clickbait headlines. However, amidst all these changes, the original value of Artifact - being a straightforward news app - got lost like a lone sock in a laundry machine. The end result? A mishmash that resembled a Twitter replacement, but entering that market is like trying to join a conversation at a high school reunion where everyone knows each other except you.

The Realization and the Wind-Down

Kevin Systrom, Instagram and Artifact co-founder, in a moment of clarity, realized that acknowledging market realities is something startups often dodge like a tricky question. He noted that making tough calls early is better for everyone, kind of like eating your vegetables first at dinner.

Artifact will start its shutdown by turning off various features, including commenting and posting – reducing the need for moderation. It's like throwing a party but not allowing anyone to dance or sing. The app will retain its "core news capability" through the end of February, giving users time to say their goodbyes.

The Competitive Landscape and the Future

The shutdown comes amidst a crowded market of Twitter rivals and a decline in other news aggregators like SmartNews, which had a rough 2023. The way we find news is changing rapidly with AI, and publishers are caught in a whirlwind of lawsuits and licensing deals over their content being used in AI training data.

Artifact couldn't quite figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up – a Twitter-esque platform, a Pinterest rival, or an AI-powered news engine. This identity crisis might have played a role in its downfall, as users were as confused about the app's purpose as a cat is about a cucumber.

Despite the shutdown, Systrom remains optimistic about the future of news and information startups. He believes other bright minds are still out there, cooking up ideas in this space.

So, as we bid farewell to Artifact, let's remember it as that ambitious startup that tried to carve a niche but ended up as a footnote in the annals of tech history. It's like trying to build a sandcastle too close to the tide – eventually, the waves of market realities will wash it away.

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