In June 2017, Instagram announced that it had started testing a feature called "Favorites", which was an attempt to reinvent the Friends List and encourage people to share more by letting them enter a more limited group by their followers. Due to the startup of "Finstagrams" – private accounts followed by only one person's closest friends – the company tried to provide users with more private sharing tools, with a host of features that affected almost all parts of the app.
Almost 18 months later, Instagram's twisted private sharing has come and it looks a lot different than it did in 201
To use the new feature, open the Stories camera and take a photo or video. When you finish the shot, you will notice a new green circle with a white star in it. Touch it and you will be taken to the close friend list where you can add people to your inner circle. Instagram will suggest friends to you based on the people you interact with most, or you can use a search box to complete your list. In testing, people usually add around two dozen people, "says Robby Stein, Product Management at Instagram.
When the list is finished, you can share with your close friends by touching the green circle when taking a photo or video for Stories. (My product feedback: This button is small and will greatly benefit from enlargement.) Once you've done that, your close friends will see a green ring around your story in the drawer at the top of the feed. It's a visual signal that a close friend has shared something more private with you, and it should stand out from standard pink-purple gradient rings.
Friends will never be notified that you added or removed them from your list. Unlike Finstagram, people can not ask to join your circle of close friends. If they are on the list, they'll see the green rings when you add to your close friends; If they are not, they will not. But you will still maintain "plausible denial," Stein says, as most people will only assume you have not posted anything to your close friend group.
Friend list is not a new idea – and most social networks, they have not succeeded. As I wrote in 2017:
Many years ago, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley told me that the user's top request had been an option to make check-in only visible to a small group of friends. Foursquare built the feature, Crowley told me, but hardly anyone used it.
Facebook, who owns Instagram, has friends lists of themselves. But their implementation has always been a bit lumpy and they seem to be relatively underutilized. Twitter's lists are different because they are public and the company has not made improvements for many years.
"This is a hard time to break, partly because social networks are dynamic," says Stein. People can be a close friend one day and drive away from you over time. For Instagram, it meant adding and removing people on the list had to be as socially painless as possible. The company hopes that by removing the list of all messages outside the green ring, it will be possible to let people share with smaller groups.
And I suspect close friends will not be the only ones who use "close friends". It's easy to imagine brands that create fan clubs or VIP lists where people can choose to receive more posts. Instagram has not built any special tools to allow publishers to manage these lists, but I wonder if the brands on time will not push the company to let them use close friends list for business purposes.
Meanwhile I'm glad close friends have finally arrived. As more people move from Facebook to Instagram, the app has begun to face the same problem of context collapse as its parent company's flagship makes. When you add photos at the same time to your best friend, your ex-boyfriend, your colleagues and a person you met once again to a wedding, you will probably share less and less. That is why I find the message in the app about how many have seen my ephemeral Instagram Stories to be so consistent. The vast majority of these people never talk with my stories and give me a constant impression that I'm just getting crawled.
For Instagram to continue flourishing, it must stand out a place for actual friends to keep in touch. Close friends are a welcome step in that direction.