Friday, November 11, 2016

Instagram Stories update adds Boomerang mode, mentions, and more

Three months after they were introduced, Instagram stories are beginning to separate themselves from the Snapchat stories they are derived from. Today Instagram is introducing mentions, links, and an inline version of its Boomerang tool into stories. The result is a product that feels livelier than before, and truly distinct from Snapchat for the first time.

The new features represent the biggest update to stories since their launch. But only two of them will be available to everyone to start with. Links, which allow users to attach hyperlinks to individual Instagram stories, will be available only to verified users. You’ll know a link has been added to a story when you see the words “see more” on the bottom of a story. Tap it (or swipe up) and the link will load using Instagram’s in-app browser.

This marks the first time links have been allowed anywhere in Instagram beyond user profiles. (Hence the phrase “link in bio” littered throughout your feed.) Nathan Sharp, an Instagram product manager, told The Verge that the company added links to stories in response to the large number of brands using the feature to promote content there. Adding links to stories means users don’t have to leave the app, he said. “It was a question of trying to keep this seamless, linear narrative experience,” Sharp said. But he wouldn’t commit to saying that all users would be able to posts links eventually.

On the other hand, all users will be able to use mentions. Using the type tool on a snap and typing “@” will bring up a tray of your frequent contacts. You can tag them in a story whether they’re in it or not, and they’ll be notified inside with an Instagram direct message. Mentions show up in stories with an underline to signal that they’re tappable — tap once to bring up a preview of the profile, and tap again to go to the profile. But profile links only work if the name is moderately sized — make the mention too big or small and it will lose its magic underline.

It’s a nice touch that extends an advantage Instagram stories have over Snapchat — they’re designed to help you discover other accounts on the service. We saw this first when Instagram brought stories to its popular Explore tab, highlighting popular users for those who haven’t yet followed them. Now every story offers a chance to highlight a person, place, or brand. If you’re a creator, that could be one reason to focus your efforts on Instagram instead of Snapchat, which offers fewer tools for finding new accounts.

The final new tool takes advantage of Boomerang, Instagram’s year-old standalone app for making looping videos. Now it appears as a creative tool within stories that is available even if you don’t have the app installed on your phone. Tap it to create a looping burst of up to five photos, which will then endlessly play and rewind. Story Boomerangs can be shorter than the roughly 1.5-second clips you get from the standalone app (just remove your finger while recording), and you can reverse the camera mid-shot if you like. You can also zoom in on your subject with one finger while recording in a new media format destined to be called the zoomerang.

The introduction of stories to Instagram portended a world where every social app has merged into one. With today’s news, the company has suggested that the stories format is more flexible than it looks. Instagram hasn’t quite made the feature its own. But it’s getting there.

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