Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced this week that they will be shutting down their AI-powered news aggregation app Artifact on February 1st, just over a year after its launch. Artifact sought to leverage machine learning to curate quality news, but ultimately struggled to build a sustainable business.
Artifact Showed Early Promise But Failed to Take Off
When Artifact debuted in late 2022, it garnered significant attention due to the pedigree of its founders. Systrom and Krieger founded Instagram in 2010 and grew it into one of the world’s most popular social media apps before leaving the company in 2018.
Artifact aimed to solve some of the issues plaguing today’s news landscape, using AI to recommend high quality, trusted news sources without algorithmic amplifications of misinformation or toxicity.
Early reviews praised the app’s clean and intuitive design as well as its ability to surface interesting, relevant articles from across the political spectrum. But after an initial burst, Artifact failed to build a large, lasting user base. By mid-2023, downloads had sputtered despite attempts to refine the algorithm and add features like support for podcasts.
Ultimately the app struggled to differentiate itself enough to pull users away from competitors like Apple News, Flipboard, and Google News. Systrom and Krieger admitted in their shutdown announcement that “personal growth is no longer a north star that drives development.”
Founders Conclude Business Model Was Not Viable
In their statement explaining the decision to close Artifact, Systrom and Krieger made clear that monetization challenges were a key factor:
“We started Artifact to build a business around quality information and trusted publishers. Along the way, however, we could not build a sustainable business model without compromises that we were unwilling to make.”
According to sources close to the company, Artifact struggled to sign up media partners to its platform and generate meaningful ad revenue. The app remained free without subscription options or premium features.
As a small startup lacking the resources and leverage of tech giants, Artifact found it difficult to compete for exclusive deals with publishers. The platform’s relatively tiny user base also limited its appeal to advertisers.
Shut Down Caps Turbulent Year for Artifact
Artifact’s imminent closure marks a sharp turnaround from its launch just 14 months ago. The app had raised $16 million over two funding rounds in 2022 and seemed poised to leverage Systrom and Krieger’s experience building Instagram into a hit.
But warning signs emerged within months as early buzz faded. By spring 2023, download figures declined and staff turnover increased. A report in May indicated Artifact executives were considering pivoting to a paid subscription model due to ads falling short of targets.
By the end of the year, however, Systrom and Krieger apparently determined even a pivot would not produce a profitable, scalable news platform.
They expressed pride in Artifact’s technology and team in their shutdown letter, but said “the space is very crowded with products that deliver news in different ways” and success would require too many compromises.
What Comes Next for Systrom, Krieger, and Artifact
With Artifact wrapping up operations over the next six weeks, its roughly two dozen employees will need to find new opportunities. Systrom and Krieger did not indicate if they plan to pursue other startups in the near future.
It remains unclear if the founders might reuse some of Artifact’s technology for other applications. Since departing Facebook-owned Instagram four years ago, they have focused exclusively on the news aggregation space.
As for Artifact itself, February 1st will mark the end of Systrom and Krieger’s ambitious attempt to reform issues like misinformation and clickbait they feel are degrading today’s digital news ecosystem.
For now, the crowded competitive landscape of news aggregation apps retains one less quality-focused alternative. But in time we may see spiritual successors seeking to pick up where Artifact left off.
Table: Artifact Timeline
|Artifact news app launches
|Downloads and growth fall short of expectations
|Pivot to subscription model considered as ad revenue struggles
|Systrom and Krieger announce app will shut down on Feb 1
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