In Mid-March, I finally updated my phone by getting a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I got an amazing deal between a gift card and a sale. Since then, I’ve been learning the phone and exploring things I can do with it. I kind of ignored the recent release of the Instagram app for Android phones at first. Then I thought I would try it out. I enjoy taking photos and it might be a fun way to explore other ways to shoot them. Let’s just say I was quickly hooked.For those who don’t know what the app is, let me explain. It is, at its basic form, a photo sharing app. I can take photos with the app or using the phone’s native camera app. I then use Instagram to apply filters. Filters that replicate various looks. Most of the filters are designed to simulate the appearance of photos taken well before the digital age, giving them more of an older appearance. Then, once I decide which filter I want to use, I upload the photo to my Instagram account for sharing with the Instagram universe. I can choose to send the photos to one of various services, like Twitter or Facebook.
The website for the app provides no ability to browse through photos, even though all of your photos are hosted on the site. You can only edit your profile, get help, or read the blog. For viewing any photos AWAY from the phone, you need to use one of several websites that use the Instagram API to simulate a photo browser.
Here are some galleries where you can view my photos:
If any of my readers are on Instagram and would like to see my feed, just search for “TripCyclone”.
I have noticed a few flaws, though they are more flaws in how users use the app than anything else. For example, through the app I can view the most popular photos at that moment. When I think popular, I’m thinking photos that are fun or exciting or creative or artistic. Not blurry photos of a a smoothie (really, this is popular with 3,000 people!). Or chapstick (2,549…I actually saw this one jump over 100 votes in less than two minutes!).
As an example, take a look at a user named “shamwoww“. He has developed a very creative feed that centers around making a story about Woody from Toy Story. Take a few minutes to look at some of the photos and you’ll see this guy earns the “Likes” for a reason. I follow this feed.
So how is it that photos that seem rather uninteresting gather such huge numbers? It didn’t take me long to notice a few trends that could explain this:
- “Follow me and I’ll Follow You” – Read through some of the comments on popular photos and you’ll notice a rather large contingent of people who, instead of providing comments about the photo itself, beg people to follow them in return for “likes” or “follows”. A follow means that any photos that person posts are seen in your “Feed” (kind of like a newsfeed). Update: Some might say that writing blogs and asking for comments is similar. It both is and is not. I want people to comment or follow because they like my content, not because they expect me to follow them back to boost their numbers. However, on instagram, when I see a new name liking or commenting on my work, I do try to go through their photos in return. Many times, I will find a few that I enjoy enough to comment on. I see it as being nice and showing them WHY I liked a photo. As an amateur photographer, I think those kinds of comments help me identify what I did well and what I could improve on. It helps me become a better photographer.
- Sex sells. So do pictures of girls it seems. Even out-of-focus shots of girls taken in a mirror. Oh, and age doesn’t seem a factor. For example, as I was scanning the “Popular” feed for a good example of this, I found a young lady who has a rather large contingent of followers. Since the profile seems to indicate she was born in 1996, she is 15 or 16 years old depending on the exact day of the year. Yet she has 15,000 followers! 15,000 people who apparently feel that they want to be kept informed of when she posts a photo. Of her last 16 photos, every single one is of her. She doesn’t seem to be posting compromising photos, but it’s rather disturbing that a roughly 15-16 year old girl has 15,000 followers keeping tabs on her self-portraits. I’m not posting the link BECAUSE I find it disturbing.
- People like clothing. Spend a day looking through the popular feed and a user will end up noticing that there are quite a few fashion related photos. Either of the outfit themselves, or of someone wearing the outfit. And the latter one has a large amount of photos showing someone wearing shorts where the photo is focused on the area from the belly button down to the thighs. Everything else is cropped out.
- Unrelated tagging. People can add “tags” to their own photos. Tags that relate to what is in the photo. I can post a picture of a turtle taking a breath of air and tag it with turtle, breathing, water, and animal. I could then tag it again with turtles and animals. Using the app, if I click on a tag, I am taken to a page display ALL photos that use that tag. It can be an easy way to search for related photos. Unfortunately, you’ll see many users adding completely unrelated tags. It broadens the visibility of their photos, thus bringing in more people. I use tags, but I try to only post tags that relate to the photo itself. I’m not going to post a picture of an apple slice and use the tag “tree”.
- I’ll call this last one “non-phone-photos”. Many of the really visually stunning photos aren’t even taken with a phone. They are taken with a regular camera, then edited on a computer and loaded onto the phone. At that point, the user uploads it to Instagram using the app. By posting visually stunning photos, they gain followers who are amazed by their photos. I can understand this one a bit more than any of the other reasons. You want to display your work. This is another way to do so. I actually like many of these photos because they are well done photos. It also helps generate the comments and likes that boost your photo into the popular feed.
Each of these helps gain followers. The more followers, the more likes and comments. The more likes and comments, the higher the photo is rated. It also gains more followers. If I follow someone, I can see who they have followed and even recent photos they have liked or commented on. I have used this to find some rather cool photos.
Is gaining popularity bad? Not at all. As someone who loves to take photos, I just wish I could find more good photos in the popular feed. Someday, I’d like to get a photo in the feed. I’ll just keep plugging away, adding photos I take that I feel are fun or creative or artistic. I’ll let my photos speak for themselves.
Or I could go get dressed in a tube top, stand in front of a mirror, and take a photo of myself eating food with a cat on the countertop. I can hit multiple themes in one shot.
Okay, I’ll put away the soapbox. Check out my feed if you’re interested. I’m also posting them to my Flickr account, so you can click on the photos you see at the bottom of my blog. There is a gallery labeled Instagram there. If you are on Instagram, post a comment on here with your profile name or find me on there. I’d enjoy looking through your photos. As a form of social networking, this is definitely a different way to make connections.
Any Instagram users out there have observations to add? What are you’re experiences with the popularity aspect of Instagram?