Artifact, the news aggregator-turned social network from Instagram’s founders, is shutting down. On Friday, the startup announced via a blog post it had made the decision to “wind down operations” of the app launched over a year ago, saying that the market opportunity wasn’t big enough to warrant continued investment.
The team had rapidly iterated on its product from a SmartNews-like news reading app to a curation and news discovery platform where individual users could become creators of a sort, finding interesting gems from around the web that others could like and comment on. It also employed several AI tools to summarize news, rewrite clickbait headlines and surface the best content. However, the slate of changes had perhaps diluted the original value of the product, which was a simple news app that could take on the likes of built-in offerings on users’ phones, like Apple News. The end result was something more akin to a Twitter replacement — but that’s a market with numerous competitors, including, in fact, Meta’s Instagram, which has launched a Twitter/X rival called Threads.
In the blog post, penned by Instagram and Artifact co-founder Kevin Systrom, he writes that acknowledging the market reality is something startups often fail to do, but “making the tough call earlier is better for everyone involved.”
“The biggest opportunity cost is time working on newer, bigger and better things that have the ability to reach many millions of people,” Systrom writes. “I am personally excited to continue building new things, though only time will tell what that might be. We live in an exciting time where artificial intelligence is changing just about everything we touch, and the opportunities for new ideas seem limitless,” he said.
To give users time to transition, the app will begin by shutting down various features, like the ability to comment and make posts. This will help reduce the moderation efforts. Existing posts will remain visible for the time being, and Artifact will continue to operate its “core news capability” through the end of February.
The shutdown comes amid increased competition in the Twitter rival landscape but also a slowdown in the usage of other news aggregators, like SmartNews. The latter had a rough 2023, with layoffs and the replacement of its CEO, while its app has been losing downloads and active users. In part, the way users are finding news and information is changing with the arrival of AI. At the same time, publishers are finding their content has been wrapped up in AI training data, which is then queried by users of bots like OpenAI ChatGPT — leading to lawsuits, in some cases, and licensing deals in others.
For Artifact, it hadn’t quite defined what it wanted to be — a Twitter-esque conversation and discovery platform, a Pinterest rival for discovering interesting links or an AI-powered news engine. That may have led to a missed opportunity to capture users’ attention, as users didn’t know how the app would fit into their usual workflows.
Despite the shutdown, Systrom says that news and information “remain critical areas for startup investment,” and that he believes other “bright minds” are working on ideas in this area.
The co-founder spoke about AI’s role at Artifact at this past fall’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. A video of that talk is below.