Social Media

Removing the ‘like’ count will take the pressure off creators: Instagram

Varun Aggarwal Mumbai | Updated on November 18, 2019

Vishal Shah, V-P of Products at Instagram (file pic)

Vishal Shah, Instagram’s Vice President of Product (file pic)

Vishal Shah, V-P of Products at Instagram, talks about the idea behind the move to remove the 'like' count and how it will impact creators.

Instagram has started removing ‘like’ counts on several Indian Instagram accounts on an experimental basis, as it expands the effort that began in the US. In a conversation with BusinessLine, Vishal Shah, V-P of Product at Instagram, talked about the rationale behind the move and how it will impact creators, whose income depends on the ‘like’ count.

Edited excerpts:

What’s the rationale behind cutting down on the ‘like’ count in certain markets? How has it turned out so far?

There's a lot of pressure that people feel to compete with themselves, as well as their friends and people around them, based on the number of likes their photos receive.

We want people to focus more on the content, and less on the numbers. And so if you think about stories, stories does not have any public light counts, or any public metrics. It's just about the content.

We learned a lot from stories -- it gave people the chance to feel comfortable expressing themselves without worrying about the metrics. So that's exactly what we're trying to learn through this test in feed.

Also read: We made some mistakes with IGTV: Instagram VP

This is an experiment we're running in some markets around the world andare hearing qualitatively exactly what we heard in research before we built it, which is that people do feel there is less pressure.

And there's a sense that everyone is on a more even playing field, which is great. But, of course, this is an important change in the ecosystem. We want to understand the long-term impact. And so it is a test that we will continue to look at and learn from. But I'm personally quite excited about it. I think it's the right type of question to ask, which is, what is the core part of the system that we need to now question, given the way it has evolved and is being used today?

How has the creative community reacted to this, because for many of them, the kind of money they get from a brand is dependent on how many likes they receive?

We're hearing two different things. One is exactly what you're saying, which is creators thinking about how they can earn a living from branded content, a really important part of the ecosystem. We are explicitly thinking about ways to solve that problem.

But interestingly, we're hearing more and more that this pressure and the sense of freedom affects creators too. And so it's not just a problem for regular people, it's a problem for even the biggest accounts in the world.

I am excited to keep exploring this space because I think we're onto something pretty powerful. And I think we're taking our time to learn and to talk and to understand, what the impacts might be. But it's a very positive direction so far.

Instagram has started the shopping experience in US. Are you planning to bring that to India or have it as a separate app, the way you’ve created a standalone app for IGTV?

We're very focused on the Instagram shopping experience inside of the app, both in terms of feed and stories, but also in places like Explorer. I'm pretty excited about shopping because people are excited about shopping.


A large percentage of people, when we talk to them, say they have already opened up Instagram to shop, to learn something new. And so the shopping feature is about tagging products and being able to see more about them. And we're also starting to test some things around being able to purchase products directly inside the app. It's a very small test that we're running right now, just in the US. But I'm excited as we learn more about how people use those features and how they think about shopping more generally on Instagram, that we can take it out more broadly to the rest of the world.

As a products head, testing out new features for a smaller app is a lot easier compared to something that goes to millions. How do you go about bringing new features for a product like Instagram?

When you think about how we build, we always think of building with our values in mind. The first one is simplicity. It's about thinking about all the complexity you want to do and then stripping away until you're left with that bare minimum.

Because we think of simplicity, we think of craft as another of our values. We actually focus on fewer things at any one point in time. So that we don't have 10,000 experiments running at any point in time, trying lots of different things.

The product philosophy is to do fewer things and to do them better, and to spend more time thinking about how we would build them.

It's being very clear, if we're making the change in one part of the app, how does it show up in another part of the app. So it doesn't feel like Instagram is 10 different things stitched together. It should feel like one product.

So in many ways, my job is harder because of that, because you have to say 'no' to more things, because we want to keep the product simple.

India was among the last markets to receive Instagram's Music feature. Is that an indicator that India is not an important market for Instagram?

I would say India is an incredibly important market for us for a bunch of reasons. One, I think, literally, the culture of the country matches how we think of expression and culture and creativity on Instagram, whether it’s in dance, in religion, in cricket, I think these are like vibrant communities that really do well on Instagram.

That being said, things like the music sticker, we also have to be conscious of local regulations on music rights. So one of the reasons that the music sticker couldn't go out to every country at the same time is because we had to work with the labels to make sure we had rights. So it was always the goal to get it out as quickly as we possibly could. And we just had to kind of work on it from from that perspective.

The Indian market for us is growing very quickly from a leadership perspective, but also from a business perspective. And we're very excited about what people are already doing on Instagram here.

Published on November 18, 2019

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