Done with Instagram

I’ve just stumbled over this news bit at PetaPixel: In Russia, You Can Use This Vending Machine to Buy Instagram Likes. Coincidentally, I decided yesterday morning that I would not continue posting my photos to Instagram, and removed the app from my phone. And that alone felt like an instant improvement of my life.

In the last couple of days, there’s been a surge of ads on Instagram in my feed – at times, it seemed like every fifth photo/post that I saw was an ad. I don’t know why this is so highly annoying but I think it has to do with the fact that I’m following a select group of people, and each ad made me wonder initially: “Who’s this account? Am I following that person? Why does this show up?” – it was really confusing. (besides the fact that the vast majority of ads was completely irrelevant to me.)

Using Instagram to share my “normal” photos was of course an experiment, to see where it would go (short answer: nowhere). And yesterday, I realized that I got so absorbed by just keeping on using Instagram that I didn’t even question the purpose anymore. And either way, using Instagram as “just another guy” who wants to share photos or as “just another brand” who wants to get noticed (my photography business, images and teaching, being my brand) – it’s just not worth the time and effort.

What is wrong with Instagram?

  • Instagram has no browser interface that is a desirable and useful alternative to the phone
  • Posting photos from the desktop computer is an incredibly convoluted process: export the photo and somehow get it onto the phone (Dropbox, iCloud, etc.) – even when using a service like HootSuite, it still involves using the phone.* And don’t even get me started about Instagram’s idiotic 4:5 aspect ratio limitation for verticals…
  • When I have time to spend on social media, I’m home at my desk – so I’m sitting in front of an expensive 24″ TFT screen with an IPS panel that has great color reproduction, is hardware-calibrated for accuracy – and I’m looking at photos on a tiny phone screen instead. I’m also using a tiny touchscreen instead of the regular computer to type (I learned to type “properly” using 10 fingers in school). This is completely counter-productive.
  • You need to “play the game” to get noticed. Using descriptive hashtags like #landscapephotography? Don’t even bother – if you want to play with the cool kids you need something like Focalmark, to find out what the cool hashtags are. The cool kids don’t post landscape photos, they post #awesome_earthpix – what else?!
  • A lot of users employ bots to interact and get noticed. The cool hashtags get picked up by the cool bots that monitor the RSS feed for that hashtag – and then a cool bot leaves a generic comment and a Like (often just an emoji, not even text). I don’t know how that makes you feel, but it made me angry, or at least annoyed.
  • Users also employ bots to start following you, faking attention in an attempt to get you to follow back – to improve their numbers! Initially, I just ignored the accounts that follow 1000 or more others themselves. But it turns out they might actually be hurting you, because they never interact with your photos – and the algorithm looks for interaction. When you have 1000 followers but only 50 Likes and 2 comments per photo, you’re not cool enough for the algorithm. I’ve begun to do the block/unblock combo in the last two months to force-unfollow those accounts.
  • You need to use third party tools to gain insights into which of your “followers” actually interacts with you – and which never do because again, it hurts your visibility if you have poor interaction rates. This is completely out of your control of course – if bots start following you and then never leave a Like or a comment, what can you do about it? How would you even know? Instagram isn’t telling you.

Now Instagram has always been a popularity contest. Every social media platform essentially is, of course. But ever since Facebook took over and switched from a simple chronological feed to one based on algorithms that weigh how interesting a photo is, it has gotten absolutely absurd. To the point where again, there’s a vending machine in Russia that lets you buy Instagram Likes. It’s not a joke.

And I wondered: is dealing with this nonsense every time I just want to share a photo really worth it? Well, you know my answer.

Obviously, strictly as a user, I’m not using Instagram right. It’s not a photo sharing service for professional photos (whatever that means). Photos that are not shared instantly the moment they’re made, with the same device they’re made on – yes, that’s a complicated way of saying “cellphone photos”. :-)

Maybe I’ll revert to using Instagram for just that, like I used to before my experiment of sharing DSLR photos on the platform began. But then again, cellphone photography is changing (I wrote about it here and here). And besides that, I most certainly don’t want to dump my cellphone photos into a service and platform where I and my data are the product, not the customer.

Fix It

In order to be a service for content creators who a) contribute to the attractiveness of the platform with high quality content and b) value their time and need an efficient workflow, Instagram would at the very least have to:

  1. curb/kill the bots
  2. provide a web interface with complete functionality and larger photos
  3. make it possible to automate posting and let me get rid of the friggin’ phone in the workflow.

But until that happens, if it will ever, I have zapped the app from my phone – and I intend to keep it that way for a while – because I’m not feeling withdrawal, but relief.

And here’s a cellphone photo – bonus picture from Garnet Peak. :-)

Hazy desert views from Garnet Peak, Mount Laguna, California, June 2017.
Hazy desert views from Garnet Peak, Mount Laguna, California, June 2017.

*) by comparison, here’s how I post a photo to Flickr: right-click in Lightroom, choose “Export” from the menu, select my Flickr export preset, optionally select a Flickr album – done. Metadata like title, caption, keywords, location is set in Lightroom, and exported to Flickr, automatically.

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7 Responses

  1. Seems a smart move IMO. I’m strictly a viewer now and even then it’s only to keep up with the my kids. I’m probably in the minority but I’m sticking with Flickr. It’s not trendy, no ads, more photo emphasis and less SM and I like the interface. The interface favors photography and not a way for photography to be a hook to engage you in other ways (like selling something).

    1. Yes, I still like Flickr for seeing photos a lot too. For Instagram there are a few folks that I’d like to keep following so I just log in with the browser to see my feed (or whatever part of it IG’s algorithm is showing me).

  2. Alex – thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I started using instagram in the past few months and a lot of your points are resonating with me. It does seem like a big game and I’ve seen some other posts by photographers that are getting burned out trying to play it. The other thing is that many of folks that I do have genuine interactions with, I’m already connected on other platforms.

    I’ll probably keep up the experiment as I’ve only been using it for a few months and revaluate in the future.

    1. That’s another thing that probably adds to the feeling of getting “burned out” – many connections already existed, pre-Instagram. Following people there is just a courtesy, and we’re all seeing the same content on multiple platforms.

      Personally, I’ve decided that Twitter is my platform for interactions with other photographers. I syndicate my blog posts to Facebook and Google+ but I am not as active there as I am on Twitter.

      Good luck with everything!

  3. I have a lot of thoughts on this – probably enough to necessitate a blog post of my own. You are absolutely correct on this, and the change from the chronological feed was a huge negative for most users. The ads are an issue in that apps such as these can’t figure out any other way to make money.

    The unfortunate situation is that, with the issues with virtually every app out there from Flickr to 500px to Instagram and beyond, there really isn’t a good community portal for serious photographers.

    Time to double down on our own website content.


  4. Nice to see this post and hear your thoughts.

    I’m slowly distancing myself from monolithic control of my data profile in the hands of a few.

    I always resisted Instagram though for some reason.

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