Instagram has announced that it is launching “co-watching”—and it’s how we’ll be socializing for the next few weeks at least.
What’s co-watching? Pretty much what it sounds like: Gather one or more pals by tapping the video-chat icon in the top right corner of a direct thread, next to the information icon. A screen appears letting the other participants know you contacted them; once you’re all on board, you can watch saved, liked, or suggested photos and videos together by tapping the camera icon in the bottom left corner of the video chat.
You can read all our essential coverage of the coronavirus/Covid-19 outbreak for free, and also sign up for our coronavirus newsletter. But please consider subscribing to support our nonprofit journalism.
Co-watching is having a moment. And we’re not just talking about the days of “Netflix and chill” (with all that implies). Shared screens are allowing friends and family to watch a film together apart, sharing the experience while practicing social distancing.
Here are some ways to co-watch:
—Netflix Party: The free Chrome extension has seen an explosion in downloads. Each viewer needs a Netflix account; once downloaded, the extension appears in Netflix’s own browser. Pick what you want to watch, click on the Netflix Party extension to share your choice with your group, et voilà: the movie begins with a group chat bar, allowing viewers to type and chat. Bonus: there’s no video or audio chatting, which means you can watch your movie in co-silence, without the annoyance of pings interrupting a crucial moment.
—Metastream: Another free Chrome extension widens your selection beyond Netflix to YouTube videos (we could all use a steady stream of cat videos right now) along with Hulu, SoundCloud, Twitch, and even Reddit, if going into deep rabbit holes on arcane topics is your friend group’s thing. As with Netflix Party, the chat function keeps the viewing experience pure. You can also curate a stream of YouTube videos, should you want to create a personal queue.
—Discord: For co-playing video games, Discord has long been the platform of choice, allowing users to step in and out of an activity and do something else on the side. You download it as a separate app.
—Old school: Maybe you’re not into Chrome extensions, or maybe you just don’t want to download another thing. The classic, no-tech-experience-required fix is to position a screen so it faces a video calling app like Zoom or FaceTime, and then just watch whatever it is you want to watch together. If screen and sound quality aren’t a big deal, this is a quick fix.
Could co-watching change how we consume entertainment? Possibly. Twitch’s video-game streams have established that people like to connect with others while watching a video. And way back in 2014, when Netflix and chilling was a thing, the platform Rabb.it was a hit with people who wanted to sync videos and do a group chat. Rabb.it is no more, but a new wave of apps is helping to reproduce the warm, fuzzy feelings of taking in a movie together. Now, what shall we watch?
Humans and technology
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023
People are already using ChatGPT to create workout plans
Fitness advice from OpenAI’s large language model is impressively presented—but don’t take it too seriously.
I just watched Biggie Smalls perform ‘live’ in the metaverse
An avatar of the singer, who died in 1997, performed with live rappers on Meta’s Horizon Worlds.
Why my bittersweet relationship with Shein had to end
Reflecting on my desire for Chinese-style e-commerce platforms.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.