Facebook and Instagram Now Let You See How Many Minutes You Use Them

August 10, 2018 - 4 minutes read

Facebook and Instagram are giving users an idea of how much time they’re spending on the platform. The data shown details how many minutes users spend per day on the apps and gives a weekly average as well.

But, while this is a noble quest to help us become more aware of how we spend our time, it doesn’t fit in with Facebook’s revenue model, which relies largely on digital advertising.

Timing Your Social Media Activity

You can find the time tracker in the Facebook and Instagram apps by going to Settings > Your Time and Settings > Your Activity, respectively. Be careful, though — the information only speaks to time spent on the mobile app, and it doesn’t factor in time spent browsing on your desktop.

The dashboard does let you set a time limit for the day, and the app sends a notification when you’ve crossed the self-imposed limit while letting you scroll and interact with content anyway.

Facebook, for its part, isn’t harvesting the self-imposed time limits as advertising targeting tools. The social media mogul, located just outside of San Francisco, will also run a back-end experiment where it won’t give these time-tracking tools to select users. This will help the company compare the time tracker’s efficacy.

Pivoting to a More Positive Experience

Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO, tweeted, “It’s true … We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional. Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Facebook’s recent move in optimizing News Feeds towards your friends’ content, rather than low-quality viral videos and other clickbait, resulted in a slower growth rate than usual this year. It even lost 1 million European users in the second quarter of 2018, leading to shares dropping by $120 billion.

Instagram’s Product Director of Well-Being, Ameet Ranadive, described the reasoning behind Facebook’s change, saying, “The changes to the News Feed back in January were one step … giving people a sense of their time so they’re more mindful of it is the second step.”

Balancing Long-Term Strategy

But won’t this cause further revenue loss and market devaluation? It’s not fazing the two companies, according to Ranadive. He says, “There may be some trade-off with other metrics for the company and that’s a trade-off we’re willing to live with, because in the longer term we think this is important to the community, and we’re willing to invest in it.”

iOS and Android are also trending towards mindfulness; iOS 12’s coming with an app tracker that shows you how many minutes you’ve spent in each app. It’ll even send you a weekly report so you don’t ignore the tracker in favor of continuing extended social media browsing. Android’s time tracker app takes things a step further: it greys out the app, rendering it inaccessible. If you really need to get on Facebook, you have to open Settings and unlock the app manually.

Do mobile app developers need to be fearful of the future of app engagement? Certainly not. Just because time trackers make us more mindful of how we spend our time doesn’t mean the end of mobile phone habits. If anything, it’s a reflection of the fact that consumers value quality over quantity. Continuing to deliver a valuable, high-quality app experience remains the surest way to set yourself up for success.

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