few years ago, Instagram was just a simple competitor to services like VSCO and Hipstamatic, known for heavy-handed filters, square crops, and hashtags. Today, with over a billion monthly users, it’s one of the largest social networks around, and its ephemeral Stories feature has already has far surpassed Snapchat, the app that it, ahem, borrowed from.

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No matter your feelings on Instagram essentially cloning Snapchat, it’s hard to argue against reaching a larger audience. With over 400 million daily users, Stories is a great way to keep up with friends and idols alike — of course, it’s yet another way to keep them in the loop about your own life, too. The simpler interface versus Snapchat doesn’t hurt either, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still complicated. Lucky for you, there’s a comprehensive guide for that — and you’re looking at it.

Getting familiar with Instagram Stories

How to view stories

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Maybe the most straightforward part of using Instagram Stories is viewing them. From the main screen (denoted by a home icon in the bottom left corner), you’ll notice a row of circular icons at the top displaying the profile pictures of the users you follow who have posted stories within the past 24 hours. You can scroll through the list to find a particular user and tap their icon to view their story, or just hit the Watch All button above the icons. Once you’ve viewed someone’s entire story, the red outline around their profile picture (indicated unseen content) will turn gray.

While you’re viewing a user’s story, their username is displayed in the top left corner of the screen, along with how long ago the content was posted. A bar at the top indicates the length of the story, and if there’s more than one entry in the story that line will be split into equal segments for each part. From there, you can tap on the left or right side of the screen to progress forward or backward through each story — once you finish a user’s story, you’ll automatically advance to the next user in the list until you’ve seen every new post.

One more thing — you can do more than just look while you’re viewing someone’s story. You can send a private message to a user in response to part of their story by tapping the camera icon or text field at the bottom. You can also send part of someone’s story to another user by tapping the paper airplane icon.

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