If you use Twitter or Facebook with any regularity, you may have noticed yesterday that the words “Instagram” and “Android” began appearing together frequently.
Instagram, up until yesterday, was an iOS-exclusive photo sharing app and social network that became quite popular due to its ease of use and iconic “hipster” photo filters that emulate low-tech cameras; the irony of low-quality, washed-out photos on an extremely high tech device like the iPhone was not lost, as many people express ire towards a userbase that may actually believe they are being artsy—even as their photos look the same as all the other Instragram users’. Yesterday, the app finally became available on Android, a move that drew the scorn of some of the more elitist among the iOS user base, which has been humorously illustrated by Buzzfeed.
Despite how easy it is to poke fun at the userbase, Instagram has a definite appeal. My friend on Twitter, TJList, asked what the big deal was, and my response was that Instagram was a great storytelling tool. He asked why Instagram was a better storytelling tool than just snapping a pic on your phone and sharing it on Twitter.
The most basic reason why Instagram is a big deal is the core function: it just looks good, and it has a distinctive visual style that many other app makers have tried to emulate. The pictures look cool. Even though many don’t like the look, it has to be said that it is pretty recognizable. Another important thing that Instagram does is put all of its images into perfect squares. This makes them iconic in the literal sense. It’s a well-designed presentation. When you share a photo on one of the countless photo sharing sites, (and there are so many, you often don’t even know which one you’re sending your picture to), you get something like this:
As you can see, the presentation is quite a bit more… well, it sucks. Ads everywhere, all kinds of icons and buttons that are ignored, a useless comment section (have you ever seen a comment on a random photo sharing site?), and other crap. Most people don’t know (or care) if they’re using TwitPic, Lockerz, Yfrog, or Twitter’s own image sharing, because it just doesn’t matter. I’ve taken hundreds of photos on my phone and shared them on these sites, and not once has anyone ever commented on them, “grabbed” them, liked them, shared them (other than re-tweeting them), or otherwise.
Instagram, on the other hand, has a pretty remarkably clean presentation when a web link is clicked from a Tweet:
As you can see, it’s much cleaner. It doesn’t waste space by inviting useless comments, it doesn’t have any ads, and everything you would want to do to interact with the photo is right there; you can Tweet it, you can Like it, and that’s it.
The Instagram app itself does allow commenting and social networking, if that’s your forte, but even just as the standard camera app on your phone, Instagram is the cleanest option I’ve used so far. When you want to quickly share pictures on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, Instagram is a stylish option that works well.
The social side of Instagram
When you use the Instagram app, you are part of a larger community, just like Twitter or Facebook. My friend TJList mentioned up above said to me later on, “At the moment, I’m too busy to add another “community” activity.”
Well and good, even though using Instagram to capture photos doesn’t take any more time than using any other service. However, taking the few extra minutes to develop a community following on the app can introduce you to some neat people and some great photos—and there are some great photos on Instagram.
In my two days with Instagram, I’ve had tons of interaction on the 15 photos I’ve taken so far. People have commented on them, shared them, and posted them on their own social networks.
The big deal
The big deal is this: Android now owns 50% of the global smartphone market. That’s simply too big to ignore. And though Instagram hasn’t monetized yet, they will, and that Android userbase is going to be a large part of that growth.
Instagram is going to become the Twitter of photo sharing. It has already proven itself to be the go-to photo app on iOS (27 million users in March, and GigaOm predicts 50 million by the end of this month due to the Android effect), and there’s no reason for it not to be. What most non-users don’t understand is that you don’t need to use the “shitty sepia filters” (as one Twitter friend put it) that the app provides; you can always publish your photos untouched (except for the forced square form-factor; that’s the only thing Instagram imposes on your pictures, which is a good way to learn to creatively crop).
It’s like this: When you’re on the go, and you want to quickly tell a story, it’s almost always better and more interesting to snap a photo and write a caption for it. Instagram is not the only photo app that does that, by a long shot, but it is the only one that does it with a userbase of over 25 million people. When I share photos on Instagram, the likelihood of people seeing them and enjoying them and re-sharing them is much higher than any other app I’ve used.
Another way to look at it is to compare Instagram to Twitter: When Twitter came out with its 140 character limit, many people laughed at the silliness. “Why would I type shitty 140-character blurbs about what I ate for lunch?”. What happened, though, was Twitter became a globally-used communications network, and the forced brevity actually made some people better writers. Instagram is doing the same thing for photos: Constraining people into a 612×612 square crop, it will make some people better photographers. News media is already using it to tell important stories, and as always, a picture can convey an idea with much more emotional poignancy and urgency than any written word.
I like Instagram. I like the look. I don’t like all of the filters, and some of them are really too ironic for my tastes, but overall it’s a well-designed app with a great UI, and a great way to one-touch enhance the photos taken on my Android smartphone, share them, and let my friends and family know what I’m up to at a glance. I am highly entertained by the interactions I’ve gotten from Instagram and its workflow as it feeds my Facebook and Twitter stream.
The backlash against Instagram reeks of “get off my lawn” syndrome. When digital photography took off, film photographers lamented the death of the art. Now those same photographers are enjoying the benefits of digital even while they’re bitching about the use of Instagram’s filters to gain effects that used to take darkroom skill or hard-to-find equipment.
When a technology gets popular, adopting it quickly is a key to staying young. When we see an elderly person using the internet or playing a video game or using a smartphone, we all say “Oh my gosh, that’s so cute. Go Grandma! I hope I am that cool when I’m 85!” This is how you do it—you adapt to the world as it changes around you and embrace it.
Instagram is fun. That’s the big deal.