It’s hard to keep up with all of Instagram’s changes in the last few months. Recently, the app has introduced three feeds, payments for creators who make Reels, swipe-up links for all, tools to schedule livestreams, and subscriptions. Somehow, all the updates manage to lead the app further and further from what made it good. On Wednesday, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri announced another new feature: Avatars.
“In the past, the way you showed up online… was primarily a profile,” he explained. “In the future, we think that the internet is going to evolve into a more immersive experience, something that we like to call the metaverse.”
But don’t let the Web3 talk obfuscate what Instagram avatars really are: they’re just Bitmoji ripoffs coming six years too late. If you’ve been on Snapchat since 2016 (I don’t blame you if you haven’t), you’ve inevitably encountered the goofy digital personas, some of which come with pre-set messages (like “I cry” while the Bitmoji lies in a puddle of its own tears). The delightfully stupid concept took off, and Apple introduced a Bitmoji clone called “Memeoji” in June 2018.
What’s old is new! Mosseri says you can use the avatars in DMs and Stories and you can create your own by going to “Settings,” then “Account,” and selecting “Avatars.” I appreciate that the camera reminds you what you look like in case you forget.
Mosseri hinted at a future where avatars serve as a digital identity, saying “You should be able to bring that identify and those digital goods with you to wherever you go in the metaverse... whether its an app that we build here at Meta or that any other company builds across the world.”
Need we make reality a cartoon? I find avatars to be a rather fun (albeit cheugy) addition to messaging, but I also find it hard to buy that they represent a person better than, say, a photo. As cute as the digital personas it’s unclear whether they will meaningfully alter the Instagram experience at this point.