It’s easy to forget about Instagram Reels.
Instagram’s TikTok competitor rolled out last week, bringing with it a newly revamped Explore tab that attempts to replicate TikTok’s video feed. Alongside a new camera layout designed to make creating easier (spoiler alert: it only made things more complicated), Instagram’s goal was obvious: make Reels a new go-to experience on the app, much like it made Stories blow up in 2016.
But a week after its launch, Reels feels tacked on. It’s impossible not to notice the flood of reuploaded videos from TikTok, with TikTok watermarks still dotting the upper left-hand corner of reel after reel. The authentic reels mostly seem to come from featured Instagram creators, and they’re often based on popular TikTok trends.
The problem is, it’s easy to miss Reels entirely. I have to actively remind myself that I can make a reel (it’s on a second tab within the camera screen) or that I can navigate over to Explore to watch reels. Reels aren’t labeled as such in Stories, so they just play as regular videos, and I haven’t come across any videos labeled as reels on my direct feed. Nothing is being served to me.
That’s the key to TikTok’s not-so-secret recipe for success: it completely removes the paradox of choice, a term coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz that refers to how having more choices can lead to a sense of paralysis, unable to actually choose anything. TikTok never makes you leave its first screen, the For You Page, a never-ending sequence of videos that flip from one to the next at the flick of a finger. Everything is served in one spot, designed to bring videos to you instead of making you find them.
The paradox of choice is a recurring problem for video services. There’s a wealth of entertainment platforms designed to let people watch whatever they want (Netflix, YouTube, Twitch). But in reality, they often make the act of watching and consuming too overwhelming because you have to choose from an endless array of options. Over at Netflix, it’s a problem the team is aware of. Netflix research in 2016 discovered that if people don’t find something within 60–90 seconds, they’ll move on to something else. A Nielsen study last year found that most people spend around seven minutes trying to find something to watch on streaming