What is Instagram?
“It’s an app where you upload photos and videos, and you can message people and you can post “stories” which expire after 24 hours but you can save them to your profile forever; and you can watch “TV” and buy things.” That’s the concise version.
Remember the old Instagram? Remember how much simpler it was? It was about uploading nice photos. It wasn’t about influencers, shopping, or avoiding those ads that appear every FIFTH story. Like go away?? I’m trying to have a wee tap ‘n’ creep on what strangers are doing, I don’t care about Spotify premium being on offer. Bye.
When I first got Instagram (or “insta” as the cool kids called it), it was just an app where you uploaded photos. That was it. All you really did was whack a filter (mostly Valencia) on a photo of the sea to make it look greener, take photos of flowers and make them black and white to be “ooh so artsy“, and upload a wee selfie every now and then so your 80 followers could see who was behind these wonderful creations. Das me.
You were pretty limited with what you could upload, it had to be a square, and so led to the need to have “instasquare” or “instasize” – these gamechanging apps that put borders on your pics to make your non-square photos ~wait for it~ SQUARE. Class.
Feelin’ adventurous? Go on your “explore” section and lose yourself in the 9 photos you could see. And then sit and refresh it every 2 seconds to see more photos, hoping that one day, ONE DAY you’d see your own photo up there. Which you obviously never did. 😦
Likes were different, there was always that sense of relief when you hit 11 likes because then it stopped displaying the likers’ names and you felt like you’d enough likes to justify uploading the photo. There was this ridiculous trend of ‘#likeforlike‘, ‘#likeforfollow’, and ‘#followforfollow‘ to reel in ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ in from strangers who wanted you to return the favour, and ‘unfollow’ you if you didn’t.
Then, people discovered these ‘jackpot’ hashtags like ‘#tumblr‘, ‘#boyfriend‘, ‘#summer‘, ‘#love‘ and other stupid words, which basically guaranteed you a whole load of likes. They’d upload photos with about 20 hashtags in the caption (that was the limit), then after a few minutes, delete this and upload a new caption with another set of hashtags, and repeat until they’d enough likes to look popular. See in these days, if you posted one of these hashtag-polluted captions on an old photo, it’d get bumped right up to the top of the hashtag. So, to avoid being scooped and have people ‘steal’ your hastag golden nuggets, you’d just go back on older photos and boost the likes up. Sleekit.
But Instagram caught on to people spamming photos with irrelevant hashtags and killed this sneaky trick by changing it so photos were listed in order of upload, not caption. Spoil sports. So, if you went back to a photo from months ago and re-tagged it, it appeared months-down the list so didn’t get any more likes. Now, people resort to ‘buying‘ likes and followers instead. Much better.
Then Instagram brought in the update that killed Instasize (R.I.P), because now you could upload rectangle photos. What a time to be alive. No borders (a firm belief of mine), and no having to worry about chopping someone’s forehead out of a pic because your friends are all different heights. Yay. They also released more filters, so now you’d more than 5 ways to make your photos look more exotic (and Ireland a lot less grey), and you could scroll on explore. SCROLL. No more having to refresh because you’d seen all the photos, you could just mindlessly scroll forever. Bliss.
Changing their logo was the first hint at what was to come with Instagram. It went from being a wee retro, beige polaroid-looking thing to being a pink square with a cartoon polaroid-looking thing. Very fresh. This changed the brand identity and showed how they were trying to be more modern, appealing to a younger audience and less remotely about photos.
Anyway, a bazillion (roughly) updates followed, and with each, Instagram released a new feature which just added on to the things it could do, and we could do on it.
Can’t choose between those 7 selfies which are all only a teeny-tiny bit different? No problem, hun. Upload em all with the new multi-photos feature. Don’t spam your followers, upload all the photos in one post. Swipe swipe swipe. Been to a concert? Got a super cute Boomerang while out for cocktails? Upload it girl, you can post videos now!! Got something that’s not really post-worthy but you still want people to see? Add it to your story. Show the world your avocado toast, fresh set or new guddies – it deletes in 24 hours anyway.
Up until this point, the updates changed what Instagram could do, but didn’t change what it was. It was still a photo based app, except with videos and messaging that no one really used except men tryna slide in your DMs (God loves a trier). But the general concept of the app was still the same.
Then, it started adding on feature after feature, until Instagram’s sole purpose wasn’t really distinguishable anymore. It’s a completely different app than it started off as, but with the same name.
There’s Instagram TV (IGTV), and to be honest I don’t even know what this is? I’ve never actually used it, I just accidentally tapped it, panicked and exited straight away. I think it’s where you can watch people who are “live”? The fact I haven’t a baldy what it is or why it’s there kinda shows that there’s 0 need for it, doesn’t it? It’s so irrelevant that I didn’t even bother googling it for you.
People used to upload photos because they liked them, now it’s because their followers literally ‘like’ them. Our feeds are plagued with photos of people, selfies and nights out, with the occasional scenic one chucked in – although there’s normally someone posing “candidly” in front of the view. See, photos of landscapes don’t really “go” in feeds and it looks a bit weird having a photo of a sunset among 20 selfies. I’m the same, if I go on holiday and get nice photos of buildings and a BLUE SKY (imagine?), I feel almost obliged to only upload them if it’s in a “multi photo” post and I’m in some of them. Photos of people get a lot more likes than landscapes, so that’s what we post.
Instagram used to be a place where content was generated and posted by users, but now a lot of it is “sponsored” and paid for by companies who are advertising. Not only are we bombarded with ads for products, but also encouraged to buy them directly from Instagram themselves. “Swipe up to shop” and you’re taken straight to the website to complete your purchase. How handy, cheers. How did we come from the days of “ooh that’s pretty – I’ll post that” to “ooh that’s pretty – I’ll buy all 3 colours”. I mean, how and why has a photo sharing app turned into a shopping platform?
Basically, Instagram’s sort of lost its concept. And it’s not the only one. Nowadays, instead of having an app does that one thing exceptionally well, we have several that try to do everything but do nothing that well. They keep adding things that other apps do, to try to be a “one stop shop”. They want to be thee app people use. Because everyone knows consumers only want one app for everything and couldn’t POSSIBLY want several that do different things. Never.
In this race to be the all-singing, all-dancing wonder app, brands lose their identity, their uniqueness, and what makes them, well, them. Have updates, add features, make improvements, fix bugs. But add relevant features. A successful app and brand doesn’t have to imitate others. You don’t have to be similar to Snapchat, eBay or Facebook. Because you’re not Snapchat, eBay or Facebook.
We don’t go to one shop to buy food, clothes, makeup and phones. We go to different ones for different things. The same way we use different apps for different things. People like choice and variety. We need choice and variety. So, ask us what we want, don’t tell us.