Apps have become too good at their jobs

Venkata Sri Saiveer Chelliboyina

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Knox Tamhankar

Apps are clawing for your attention.

Whatsapp is adding the option to buy groceries through the app in India. Facebook, now Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerburg aims to turn Whatsapp into a Wechat, which is a super-app that has multiple functions. This announcement is the latest in an increasing trend of apps over-saturating their features. 

The goal for most apps, especially social media, is to sustain user retention for as long as possible. An obvious example is Snapchat’s streaks feature that incentivizes users to interact with the app daily. When asked what app he uses the most, junior Deep Sahu said Snapchat, as he spends an average of two hours on it every day.

On the other hand, Junior Aswin Suresh Kumar states that he spends most of his screen time on TikTok.

“[Videos are] short, so you can keep watching a bunch of [them] and it will not seem like much time has passed, whereas if you go on Youtube, you are watching long videos, about 20 to 30 minutes,” Kumar said.

Recently, apps have started adopting popular features from other apps, absorbing what works and emphasizing it. Short-form content is a great example of this phenomenon. When TikTok exploded in popularity, Meta rolled out Instagram Reels and Youtube replaced its explore tab with a new ‘Shorts’ tab. These “TikTok clones” have gained their own traction. Junior Shalin Mehta expresses that he uses Instagram the most.

“Instagram shorts are pretty addicting and I am currently trying to reduce [my time spent on Instagram],” Mehta said.

This facade of decreasing the watch time increases viewer retention because the users unintentionally consume more of it. 

Youtube shorts affected countless Youtubers who made their careers on the platform. They stole the target audience of regular-length videos which lead to a decrease in the watch time for longer videos. Youtube neglected its core audience in favor of increasing user retention based on a current trend. Established Youtubers like Marques Brownlee and Mrwhosetheboss had to create a secondary shorts channel to keep up with their audience. 

Hyper-personalized social media feeds and echo chambers further enhance the already impressive ability of today’s apps to maintain user engagement. The current competition over our attention is pushing apps to do much more than they were initially intended to do. Examples of this include Twitter testing podcasts, Google integrating Meet, a video calling service, into Gmail, and Netflix entering the gaming market with Netflix games.

The various functions of these competitive social media apps clutter up quickly and obstruct the primary genre of the app. Regardless of whether we end up buying milk and eggs through Whatsapp in the near future, the feature will be hard to execute without getting in the way of the app’s messaging-centered nature.