Instagram is developing a new feature that could give its app more of a TikTok-like feel: Vertical Instagram Stories. Today, users browse through Stories through taps and horizontal swipes -- a feature Instagram adopted from Snapchat. But now, Stories are passé. Even Snapchat is borrowing ideas from TikTok. Its recent launch of Spotlight, for example, is its own TikTok clone.
In many ways, vertical swiping feels more natural than taps and horizontal flicks. It is, after all, how users navigate much of the mobile web, as well as other key features across a variety of social apps, like Facebook's News Feed or YouTube's home page.
That said, turning Instagram Stories into a vertical feed would be a notable change, and one that could potentially set the stage for a shift away from more static content -- like the photos and reshared Feed posts that still often fill the Stories section today. In a "Vertical Stories" feed, on the other hand, Instagram would likely prioritize video posts over images to better compete with TikTok, just as it's currently tweaking its algorithms and overall design to prioritize Reels. (A turn of the dials that has already been leveraged by indie creators to significantly grow their followings, in fact).
The "Vertical Stories" feature was spotted under development by Alessandro Paluzzi who shared the discovery on his Twitter account.
— Alessandro Paluzzi (@alex193a) February 2, 2021
His screenshot shows a simple user interface with text that reads: "Now you can swipe up and down to browse stories" and then a big, blue button labeled "Vertical Stories."
Paluzzi tells TechCrunch that the feature is not yet live. Instead, he dug it up from Instagram's code.
Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch the feature is being built but is not out to the public at this time.
"This is an early prototype and is not currently testing on Instagram," a company spokesperson told us.
A prototype may never actually make it to a public launch, of course, but its existence does say something about what sort of ideas Instagram is considering as a means of offering a better challenge to TikTok.
Today, the company's TikTok rival, Reels, has been shoehorned into the platform via the Instagram Explore page, where Reels sits in the top position. When you click on the Reels video here, you're taken to a new user interface where you then vertically swipe through videos, similar to TikTok.
This doesn't feel right, and the launch of the new format has added to Instagram's clutter. Today, the app has all sorts of places users can publish their videos, including in the Feed, as Stories, as longer-form IGTV content, and now Reels. It's too much.
Instagram knows this arrangement isn't quite working. As Instagram head Adam Mosseri recently told The Verge, most people probably don't even understand the difference between IGTV content and videos posted to Instagram, for example. He said the company was looking at ways to simplify and consolidate its ideas, too.
While his comments were focused on the confusion between Instagram's normal video posts and IGTV, there's also significant overlap between Instagram's Stories' vertical video content and Reels. A "Vertical Stories" feed could allow for an eventual combination of those formats -- Stories videos and Reels, perhaps.
It's not clear that's at all what Instagram has in mind, though. The social network could just be looking to transition another part of its app to the more modern vertical feed, as the demand for the traditional Stories format declines.