Why doesn’t Apple’s AI application of the year survive a year?

"Instagram has lost its soul."

As a user, it is human nature to complain about Zhang Xiaolong while chatting on WeChat and dislike Wang Gaofei while scrolling through Weibo. But coming from Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, these words seem a bit intriguing.

In March 2023, Systrom told the media that he used to like to see what friends and family were doing on Instagram, but as more and more internet celebrities and brands poured in, Instagram became commercial and fake.

He may be Zuckerberg who is dissatisfied with the acquisition of Instagram, or he may be building momentum for the new product Artifact.

Artifact is an AI-driven news sharing app. It can be understood as a foreign media version of Toutiao with higher quality sources. He was born in January 2023 and died in January 2024. The cause of death was that it was not popular enough or commercial enough. mind.

Text version of TikTok, but more humane

At the end of 2023, Artifact's future is still bright. It was named the best daily essential app in 2023 by Google Play and listed as one of the generative AI applications in 2023 by the App Store.

Just recently, the Artifact team issued an announcement announcing that it will cease operations from January 12. Users will no longer be able to post new posts and comments. It will be completely shut down at the end of February and will no longer be able to read news.

The reason is also very decent, and can be summarized as "approval but not popular": the core group likes it, but the market is not big enough.

Although the "obituary" is sudden, it is also expected. This starts with Artifact's positioning and functions.

The name of Artifact contains three words: articles (articles), facts (facts) and AI (artificial intelligence). As the high expectations are engraved in the name, AI appears in almost every part of Artifact.

Algorithm recommendation similar to Toutiao is the core of Artifact. But Toutiao is a product from 2012, the algorithm is improving, and the product landscape at home and abroad is also different.

In order to be better understood by young foreign users, Artifact prefers to be called the "text version of TikTok".

Artifact's information flow selects popular articles from leading media, niche blogs, etc. Click on the content you are interested in, and then it will "guess you like" and push similar stories to you.

There is a small threshold for "Guess You Like It" – reading more than 10 articles. Artifact will also help you count the quantity thoughtfully, and then tell you which level you are at. If you read more than 250 articles, you are considered a top user at the top of the pyramid.

When I clicked on a few articles related to mental health, it started pushing related content to me all at once.

At the same time, Artifact's algorithm pays more attention to the time and progress you stay on each article to serve your personal in-depth reading, rather than allocating traffic to the content with the most clicks and comments to cater to the reading preferences of most people.

If you turn on the "Full Page Reading" mode, you can remove advertisements and other irrelevant information on the original web page, making the reading experience more refreshing and immersive.

This also means that it is anti-commercial. Readers feel better, but no one reads the ads, and personal browsing traces are harder to track.

Led by algorithms, Artifact does not forget to intervene in human judgment.

The sources that appear here are carefully selected by the Artifact team and meet their subjective standards for content.

At the same time, important news should be visible to everyone, so the top of each topic category is reserved for headlines.

For example, "The International Monetary Fund says AI will affect about 40% of global jobs" under the "AI" category collects 18 reports to allow readers to understand this information more deeply and systematically.

If the algorithm recommendation makes you feel that it is nothing more than that, Artifact's other AI functions are based on the pulse of the times.

One is the summary function based on GPT-4, which helps you summarize the content of the article in a variety of styles to save reading time – a regular three-paragraph style, an emoji style like "Mars writing", a simple style that is friendly to 5-year-olds, and literary talent. The brilliant but wordy poetry style, the Gen Z style that laughs and curses online…

The quality of the three-part summary is actually quite good. It grasps the key points and does not make up random things. However, sometimes it makes people wonder, is there really a need for other summaries that are neither useful nor useful?

If I didn't tell you, you might not guess. The following emoji summary is about the American Critics' Choice Awards awarding the "Best Song" to "I'm Just Ken" from "Barbie", performed by Commander Gao's puzzled expression came out of the circle.

The other is the AI ​​function that kills headlines. Users can long-press an article that appears in the information stream to report that an article is not on topic and that too many people have reported it. When this article is displayed in the information stream, the title will use GPT-4. Rewrite.

The AI-rewritten title will only appear in the information stream, with an asterisk appearing next to it to remind users that this is not the original title. If they click into the article, they will still see the original title and text.

▲ AI rewritten title (top) and original title (bottom).

The Artifact team discovered an interesting phenomenon—more users are opposed to clickbait than they thought.

In the larger Internet world, media competition is fierce and information emerges in an endless stream. You write similar content, and others write similar content. Users’ attention is limited, and clickbait has become a way to earn clicks. But the reason why everyone gathers at Artifact is to read the news, so headline-grabbing news naturally makes people uncomfortable.

In the era of fragmented information, "difficult to refresh" is a virtue

Various "factory settings" illustrate Artifact's niche.

Users who like to use Artifact should have the following characteristics – heavy news readers, hate headlines, don't want to see ads, and are too lazy to dig up useful information in the gaps between social media quarrels…

It seems that Artifact is a smarter RSS reader that can better guess what you like, providing professional articles from high-quality sources.

RSS is also an old Internet term. It belongs to a classical and elite Internet era. At that time, people found RSS links on target websites and then added them to readers.

But new news distribution channels and social media have revolutionized the life of RSS. If RSS is an artificial aggregation of information, they are a more automatic and more humane information aggregation. The continuous downward movement makes people taste the effects of dopamine. addictive feeling.

After the RSS reader Google Reader announced its service shutdown in 2013, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming wrote an article pointing out that traditional RSS is no longer suitable for the times and is destined not to go far because the requirements for users are too high – both information organization capabilities You must be strong enough to know where the information you need is; you must also have strong self-control to organize and control the number of feeds regularly.

At that time, he believed that smart reading products more suitable for the public should be personalized recommendations based on algorithms.

In 2012, ByteDance’s main product Toutiao was launched. It not only gained a large number of users, but also made the public understand the concept of “recommendation algorithm”. Then the algorithm was used in more information, e-commerce, and short video platforms, allowing you to watch to content you like from people you follow, your friends, and yourself.

Now it seems that what Zhang Yiming said is still correct. Artifact is a new product in 2023, and it may also be a "throwback" that echoes the 2000s.

On the one hand, it is rooted in text in the era of short videos, and on the other hand, it relies on the most popular machine learning and algorithms. Artifact compares itself to the "text version of TikTok", which is very illustrative of the problem, creating a perverse feeling like time travel.

Personalized news apps are actually not uncommon, and some are much older than TikTok. However, TikTok and the short videos it represents have now surpassed reading products such as Toutiao and become synonymous with "Guess You Like It".

▲ "US version of public account" Substack, the founder is also an RSS enthusiast.

Artifact actually doesn't have many new ideas. Except for some decorations of AI functions, its existence is more like "old wine in new bottles."

But the short-lived appearance of Artifact also shows that in an era with more information, when texts, pictures, and short videos emerge in endlessly, it becomes more difficult to filter information.

The most interesting thing is that Artifact can't find its own position.

In just one year, Artifact did not just stay in place as a reader, but also added many social functions. In September 2023, Artifact launched a separate "Links" page next to the news information flow.

Any content that can be shared as a link, such as a video or a recipe, is welcomed by Artifact. It can let AI guess what you like like the news stream, or you can only view content posted by people you follow.

It sounds novel, but if you think about it, isn’t this back to social media? Users continue to consume, publish, and comment on content, but high-quality information sources cannot be guaranteed.

However, if you want to make the transition to social media, it’s not just information and algorithms that matter, but also a sense of community and people willing to contribute content.

Musk values ​​the public square value of X because it gathers active technological elites. The comment section of Douyin is sometimes more interesting than the video itself, and the ability of people on Douyin to make jokes is at its peak.

But Artifact, which is mixed between news and social networking, is neither that cool nor that interesting. The number of users is always very small. It can be seen from the number of articles read in the hundreds and dozens. It is very difficult to do social networking even if it is a cold start. .

Returning to the original intention of Artifact is actually to solve a problem – how to control the number of subscriptions and how to aggregate useful information. But commercially speaking, such a product is thankless. Adding ads is not "small but beautiful" enough, and sharing media subscriptions cannot be realized because the number of users is too small.

Although Artifact, blessed by the halo of Instagram, is gone, we still need to try this way.

When it comes to topics such as the fragmentation of information consumption and information cocoons, we always bring up the "evil" Douyin.

You may not know that Douyin has a medium-length video version that wants to compete with Station B – "Douyin Selected". This is an independent app. It was originally called "Qingtao" and was changed to its current name in September 2023. It is not only different from Douyin, but also can be remembered by people in the light of Douyin.

With the slogan "Every time you open it, you will gain something new", the "Douyin Selected" videos are longer and contain more information. In addition to selected videos on digital, art, popular science, etc., there are also many documentaries. look.

The "recommendation" interface of "Douyin Selection" is more like the pictures and texts of Xiaohongshu. You can only see the video after clicking in. Unlike Douyin, which opens with vertical screen short videos, "Douyin Selections" allows me to scroll down and indifferently ignore content that I am not interested in.

▲ Picture from: Douyin Selected Home Page

However, after scrolling through "Douyin Selection", I found that from travel tutorials to cryptocurrency scams, from self-media experience to teaching how to make money in Hangzhou, from must-see high-scoring Korean dramas to making traditional Chinese colors, I didn't feel it. The video quality has improved significantly, but there are less nonsensical funny content.

But what’s interesting is that when it comes to “Douyin Selection”, which even few people in the editorial department know about, my colleagues commented that it’s “very difficult to use”. This is actually a compliment, just like how people with light tastes regard desserts. Top Rating – Not So Sweet.

"Douyin Selection" gave me a feeling: I seem to be able to learn something, but in fact I can't remember anything. It's just the fact that I put food in my mouth, which is packaged more obscurely.

Returning to Artifact, which has yet to achieve its ambitions, it is hard to imagine that when short videos are in the spotlight, there is still such a product with "reading articles" as its core, allowing us to repeatedly read the title, click on the article, and then return. The experience is not as good as Weibo. It’s fun with Instagram, not to mention Douyin and TikTok.

It gives your brain time to control impulses instead of habitually brushing it off. The algorithm helps us filter information, and at the same time we are consciously reading the information instead of being led by the algorithm.

As a product itself, Artifact is immature, and users’ eulogies about it are roughly “I appreciate the concept, but it’s not easy to use.”

But actually, the information has always been there, right? Returning to RSS and Newsletter, and refreshing social media according to the timeline should not be difficult to do.

It is precisely the scarcity and short-lived life of products like Artifact that show that it is increasingly difficult to actively find your own reliable information sources. There is sea everywhere, but it is difficult to find water to drink.

It is as sharp as autumn frost, and can ward off evil disasters. Work email: [email protected]

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