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  • Vishal Narayan

Artifact death a reminder of cutthroat news business


News app Artifact’s sad demise is another testament to the cutthroat world of news websites where near even half a million downloads in just under a year cannot help you stay afloat.

Launched by Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Artificat was shut down on January 13 after a year of being in business and scoring 444,000 app downloads.

Systrom, Artifact's CEO, announced the shutdown in a blog post, "We have built something that a core group of users love, but we have concluded that the market opportunity isn’t big enough to warrant continued investment in this way."

Systrom said that although the app had a devoted user base, the overall chance in the market wasn't big enough to make it worthwhile to keep putting money into the app.

The app, launched last February, famously employed machine learning to personalise how users read the news.

The shutdown was unexpected because the app had a positive reception from its core users. It cleverly used AI for suggestions, summarising news, and changing clickbait, and it had a simple and modern design that made it user-friendly.

Artifact attempted to stand out by using AI for features such as rephrased article summaries, but it struggled to form a clear and distinct identity, allowing comments and sharing emojis by users, and turning it into a hybrid of news site and social media.

That the app was dying slowly was not lost on the founders, who must have noticed a sharp decline in the number of downloads after an enthusiastic initial response.  

According to appfigures, the app had 100k downloads in the month of February, but saw an increasingly steeper decline in the subsequent months. By April, downloads had dwindled to 46K, and by June, to just 20K.

The app insights website blamed the app's killing to an overenthusiastic reading by the owners of the news market, where even the best struggle to survive, and building the app, maybe too soon.

Even though it was pitted against the likes of Smartnews, which has more than 50 million downloads, Artifact had all the trappings of a successful app, with a spare and reader-friendly interface and a host of beats to read news from.

All the same, the app failed to grow beyond its core users, especially outside the US, where the founders had little opportunity to vaunt their technological clout.

Systrom acknowledged the competition the field he chose to venture in posed for such apps.

He wrote in the blog, "News and information remain critical areas for startup investment. We are at an existential moment where many publications are shutting down or struggling, local news has all but vanished, and larger publishers have fraught relationships with leading technology companies."

He added, "My hope is that technology can find ways to preserve, support and grow these institutions and that these institutions find ways of leveraging the scale that things like AI can provide."




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