With everybody locked inside, and missing out on regular social interaction, Instagram is adding a new feature which aims to help users connect via video chat, with the option of also scrolling through your Instagram feed while still connected via video link.
As you can see here, Instagram's new 'Co-Watching' feature enables users to search through Instagram and share content with the group, enabling participatory engagement on Instagram content.
As explained by Instagram:
"To help people stay connected, we’ve launched media sharing, a new feature that allows you to view Instagram posts together with your friends over video chat. You can start a video chat by tapping the video chat icon in the Direct inbox or in an existing Direct thread, then view saved, liked and suggested photos/videos by tapping the photo icon in the bottom left corner in an ongoing video chat."
So you can't necessarily scroll through your regular feed, but you could, for example, create a list of content to discuss in your chat by liking or saving relevant posts, which you can then access in-stream.
Instagram's actually been developing its co-watching feature for some time - in April last year, reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong spotted the feature in testing.
Instagram is testing AR Effects and Co-Watching in Video Calls— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 17, 2019
(hands-on demo) pic.twitter.com/y1OV80zVtg
Instagram appears to have pushed the development of the tool in response to the lockdowns, with the final, released version enabling up to six concurrent viewers to join, as opposed to only two in its initial test. The feature is also similar to group video/screen-sharing app Squad which saw a jump in popularity over the last year.
And you can imagine it will be popular - for example, I often scroll through Reddit and Like content that I think my wife will appreciate. I then hand my phone over to her later in the day and let her see what I've found. I imagine many people do similar, and co-watching will essentially facilitate this within the app, and in real-time. It's sort of like a social media content DJ process, where you can show off the best things you've seen to a wider audience.
And right now, we need more social options. One of the things that people will start to miss most while isolated is basic human contact, being able to share a joke, or go for a walk to get lunch, simple things that you do every day at work that you don't even consider. Without that social outlet, you can lose connection with some of who you are as a result, as these interactions serve as a basis for comparison, for understanding - things that you've always instinctively done, but never really considered.
Providing another means to stay in touch - in a fun, engaging way, which adds another element to your video chats - will undoubtedly prove beneficial in the coming weeks and months.
In a brand/marketing sense, it could also provide a means to boost engagement with small groups, by maybe saving a collection of posts from your company, for example, or those highlighting your products, which you could then discuss with top fans via this option.
In addition to this, Instagram has also made it easier to create your own funding drives for non-profits working to address the issues surrounding COVID-19, with a new, dedicated section within your Donation sticker options highlighting relevant charities.
This is part of Instagram's ongoing, broader effort to help raise awareness of COVID-19 and what people need to do. Hopefully, by enabling more ways for people to contribute to fundraising efforts, we can lessen the burden on those most impacted within society - because as time goes on, those impacts will only continue to expand.