Unleashing the Power of the Interest Graph: Lessons from Instagram

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Aug 07, 2023

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Unleashing the Power of the Interest Graph: Lessons from Instagram

In the world of startups, one of the challenges that can arise is the emergence of "uninvited users" who try to take over the initial vision and direction of the company. Before diving into the new problems that these users present, it is crucial for co-founders to have discussions about certain key points. Should they consider changing the problems they are trying to solve internally? Are there larger groups of users behind these particular users? Will addressing these users or similar users change or disrupt the revenue structure of the business? Can they identify excellent opportunities to grow their business by catering to these users?

Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, makes a clear distinction between social graphs and interest graphs, shedding light on why Instagram is so valuable. While the social graph is significant, the interest graph holds even more value, albeit being more challenging to build. The interest graph refers to the collection of user interests and preferences, which can be harnessed to provide personalized and targeted experiences. However, building a killer app for the interest graph has proven to be elusive due to the ease of gaming the system on the open web.

This is where Instagram sets itself apart. With its walled-garden approach, Instagram can generate higher-efficacy signals about user interests through first-party data and quality control. On a social graph, valuable signals can be derived from users' interactions within the platform itself. In contrast, an interest graph relies on approximation and inference. Instagram's focus on on-platform engagement and first-party data has allowed it to create a more accurate interest graph.

However, Instagram still faces challenges when it comes to translating visual content into specific interests. Algorithmic curation in the "Explore" tab is an ongoing work-in-progress. Users have always had the ability to manipulate the system through comments and hashtags, which can affect the accuracy of the interest graph. Additionally, the incentives and misincentives of ad-based monetization play a significant role in shaping the platform's content.

To preserve the integrity of the platform, Instagram populates the main feed only with content from directly followed users and prohibits users from reposting into their friends' feeds. By focusing on its entertainment niche, Instagram can limit the propagation of undesirable information on its platform. Clickable links serve no purpose in this context, as few people open Instagram with the intent of seeking information.

Mark Zuckerberg recognized the need to segregate user-generated content from organic brand interactions on Facebook, preserving the platform's focus on person-to-person communication. Similarly, Instagram should primarily aim to entertain its users, as that is their primary intent when using the platform.

The pursuit of "navigable URL links" is fruitless for Instagram, as it does not align with the platform's vision or value proposition as the first killer app for the interest graph. Retreating to the safety of Facebook Core's social graph would create an opportunity for new entrants to capitalize on the interest graph, unencumbered by Instagram's baggage.

In conclusion, for startups navigating the challenges of uninvited users, it is essential to have open discussions about the changes in problems to be solved, the potential impact on the revenue structure, and the opportunities for growth that may arise. When it comes to platforms like Instagram, recognizing the power of the interest graph and focusing on entertainment rather than information can help create a unique and valuable user experience.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Foster open and honest conversations among co-founders to address challenges posed by uninvited users.
  • 2. Continuously refine and improve algorithms and curation processes to enhance the accuracy of the interest graph.
  • 3. Embrace the platform's niche and value proposition, ensuring that it aligns with the primary intent of its users, such as entertainment in the case of Instagram.

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