There was a time when social media was just for sharing things with your friends. Then you started looking up your old flames from high school, and you added them to keep tabs on who got engaged or had a baby. Your parents got on social media, so you had to add them too. Then your boss sent a friend request, and it would be rude to reject it, right? Eventually, social media started to look less like a party among your closest confidantes and more like a digital rolodex of everyone you’d ever met—or even, increasingly, people you’d never met at all.
In the Instagram era, this has turned posting into a guarded affair. You can share the details of your life, but only to the extent that you’d be comfortable with a coworker, or a relative, an ex-lover, or a stranger seeing it. And as a result, social media has become a lot less “friendly.” Even the parlance has changed; the line between “friend” and “follower” is deliberately blurred.
Today, Instagram hopes to reintroduce some of that intimacy. The Facebook-owned app is rolling out a new feature called Close Friends, which lets users create a separate list of followers to grant special viewing permissions. When posting a Story to Instagram, users will be able to differentiate between posting for everyone and posting to their group of Close Friends.
Instagram began testing the feature over a year ago, starting with a small group of global users. The company noticed that users wanted more control over their audiences; during beta testing, it found that users liked to limit their audience more in Stories than in their main posts. The resulting feature works almost like a group message for sharing personal details—a new relationship, a frustration at work—that people might not be keen to share with their entire audience.
As the platform has grown—more than 400 million people post Stories every day, according to Instagram—users have sought to curate the size of their audiences with more provisional methods. Some rely on Instagram’s messaging tool to send posts to small groups of friends. Others use secondary accounts, or “finstagrams,” to reveal a different or more intimate part of their lives to a more limited audience. The new feature folds some of that flexibility into the main account, allowing users to create an infinitely adjustable list of Close Friends.
Once your Instagram app has updated to the latest version and includes the new feature, tap Profile in the side menu, then select Close Friends. The list you curate can be changed at any time, and only you can see who’s on your list.
When you post a Story to your list of Close Friends, they’ll see a green ring around your profile photo in the Stories tray. Stories posted to all followers will still appear with a pink ring. Instagram says this gives users “plausible deniability” about who’s on their list: Someone might not see a green ring because they didn’t make the cut, or simply because you never post Stories to Close Friends.
For Instagram’s millions of users, Close Friends could make the platform more manageable. Or it could introduce new and complicated social dynamics, like a next-generation version of MySpace’s Top 8. Instagram, for its part, just hopes it give users a new way to share—and, with any luck, a reason for users to share even more.