Instagram has been famously restrictive when allowing users to post links to external websites: only one link was allowed, and that was only possible in your bio at the top of the profile, not in text accompanying posts; hence the endless pleas to “see link in bio”. Now that’s changed: Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the news that Instagram (which is owned by Meta) will support up to five links via his Broadcast Channel (Instagram’s public messaging tool).
Now, tapping on the primary link in a user’s bio will open up a slide-up interface displaying more links. It’s not flashy or colourful – maybe deliberately so – and it doesn’t offer the same ability to embed videos and music like you see on an interstitial page after clicking an artist’s smartlink. The immediate hot take from some commentators is that Meta is “going after” those many smartlink companies whose links you habitually see in artist and influencer bios. (And in the bios of big companies too: as Linktree pointed out, Meta itself was using a Linktree link at the time of the announcement, although that has now quickly been replaced with a Meta link.)
But that supposition rests upon the idea that smartlinks are simply providing one functionality: to act as a gateway to more than one URL – artists’ websites, content, merch shops, and DSP links. However, smartlink services offer a lot more to their users, like data, audience insight, paywalls, and marketing tools. For many artists, a smartlink interstitial side *is* their website: why build a home page when a smartlink is already the central place to send everyone?
Links are not just good and desirable things, they *are* the internet. So any form of restrictions on linking is a reminder of what can happen if you build a business in a walled garden: the owner of that garden can make a change that restricts your ability to do what you did before. And companies are focusing more on the value of their position as jumping-off points: Twitter, in one of its many recent “idea u-turns” as it seeks new income streams, mooted banning smartlinks, resulting in exasperated responses from some smartlink companies.
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