By Instagram’s count, I have 314 photos. It’s a number that represents, while not an obsession, a clear devotion to the image sharing platform I’ve been using since early 2011. There are, by parent company Facebook’s count, 100 million people just like me, who have adopted Instagram’s collection of classic and artistic photo filters to tell a thousand words per picture. During Hurricane Sandy, Instagram stepped out fully from the shadow of other social media platforms to stand as a leading news media gathering and sharing tool.
The numbers are pretty startling: 10 images per second, over half a million photos with the hashtag “Sandy.”
And then, with Instagram interest higher than ever, (serendipity or planning, you be the judge) the service introduced Web profiles. These are home pages for your Instagram world. It’s a big deal because up until now, Instagram made it impossible to see more than one Instagram photo on desktop computers. Third-party service Statigram has long offered this capability, while adding much-needed analytics to the photo-sharing services (I wonder if Instagram will soon do the same with Web profiles).
With the new profiles, every Instagram user has a homepage where they can see their own work. More importantly, it’s a link you can easily share with anyone on or off the service. This one change breaks Instagram out of the somewhat confining mobile box and makes it a far more shareable social destination.
I predict that this simple move will double Instagram’s user base and increase existing Instagram users’ followers tenfold. There is no downside here.
Twitter’s Photo Idea
Let’s pause for a moment to consider just how sad and ridiculous this is. Instagram’s filters are smart, nostalgic and dead-simple to use, but they are not the most appealing part of the service. It is, as with most things, an alchemic mixture of properties, not the least of which is the “Like” function.
Instagram’s Likes could just as easily be called “ego boosts.” When you see likes under your Instagram photos you feel good about yourself, not just because people like your picture, but because they like something you created. Instagram photos are creative acts: you take the photo, crop and move it just so, and then choose the perfect filter to convey your selected emotion. You’re an artist! As a result, those Likes and comments mean so much more.
Adding photos in Twitter to a tweet is, to a lesser extent, still a creative act, though I think it’s often more about telling a story (often a news story) and not about making something artistic or beautiful. To be fair, at least you know that most Twitter pics are not enhanced. Instagram’s filters sometimes add a bit of drama that might otherwise not have existed.
However, if Twitter is in fact working on its own filters, it misses the point of Instagram: At least part of it is sentiment aggregation. Twitter aggregates pretty well, too. Under the Interactions tab, I can see all the retweets for a particular tweet, but responses to the same Tweet are not always easy to find, since they’re often not grouped together. Twitter has Favorites too, but I never use them and I don’t think many other Twitter users do either. Also, Twitter limits my ability to find tweets from when I first joined Twitter to see what kind of response I got back in 2008. Instagram puts every single photo I ever took on my Web profile.
Facebook, which snapped up Instagram earlier this year, makes it far easier to collect around a single post with Likes and comments (it also does a better job of letting you go back in time — thank you Timeline!).
Getting Closer and Closer
Speaking of Facebook, Web profiles is the first clear sign that Instagram and Facebook are, ever so slowly, coming together. The whole top of the page looks a lot like Facebook cover photos, with one notable difference: The images atop Instagram Web profiles are alive and gracefully transition through your recent image posts.
On the other hand, Facebook’s most recent iOS app update added Instagram-like filters to the Facebook photo-capture feature. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but considering there are nine times more Facebook members than Instagram users, it’s likely many of them have never heard of Instagram and will appreciate the new tools.
With the ever-deepening marriage between Facebook and Instagram, it can be easy to forget how closely Instagram is associated with Twitter. Without the micro-blogging platform, it’s unlikely Instagram would ever become the roaring success it is today, or that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg would have paid a billion dollars for it.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (along with a collection of angel investors) saw the benefit and potential and poured $7 million into Instagram in early 2011. Yet he didn’t buy it. In hindsight, that would have been the smarter move. By the time Twitter decided it did want Instagram, it was outbid (or maneuvered) by Facebook. Since then Dorsey moved on from Instagram (he reportedly no longer posts with the app and Twitter’s API updates have disconnected the Find [Twitter] Friends feature in Instagram) and Twitter is left to try and figure out how to recreate that certain something in Instagram.
That may be harder than they think. It’s like explaining why one filter in Instagram works better on a particular photo than another. You can’t put it into words, it simply works.
If Twitter introduces a slavish reproduction of Instagram’s filters and doesn’t make some significant changes to the platform to help people gather around these high-shareable images, they’ll have nothing but a pale imitation of Instagram — a filter the service might call “Washed Out.”
Do you agree with me that there’s more to Instagram than just filters? Let me know in the comments below.