Instagram is nearly five years old. I can’t believe that Instagram has been around for that long. What on earth did I do with my photos before that? Store them in a shoe carton? No, that wasn’t the only way. I already had a Flickr account back then which I could also supply via a smart phone.
Even before Instagram, Hipstamatic was an app for iPhone which made artificial photographs from small smart phone pictures. Hipstamatic was the first app I knew of which performed such a service. When I bought my first iPhone, the iPhone 4, I was thrilled, because no longer were the photos lifeless, low-contrast, and naturalized, where everything from front to back was in focus – corresponding to the sensor size. There was blurriness, color tinting and randomness. Exciting!
The world distorted – a photo taken with Hipstamatic
I presented the photos on Flickr which at that time – in 2010 – already had an app. However, it wasn’t great, just enough to use it with the iPhone. This app had been developed as a web application. The idea behind the mobile app was to use the photo platform with new devices.
Instagram didn’t invent the wheel, but it did improve on almost everything: A user interface that was easier to use in combination with filters for distortion and a dash of social interaction. It was not only the start of the app which is now one of the most important apps, used all over the world. Instagram also represents a category of apps which could be called photo social networks; Photo social networks are networks where a person can communicate with other users with the help of photos (images). They enable us to illustrate our daily lives. The meaning of this is shown in a comparison between two other similar networks: Flickr and EyeEm.
I am what I eat
Before we do so, however, let’s have a quick look at Instagram. The app continues to be the leading photo social network. At Instagram, sharing the photo is paramount. The photo button is in the center. Nowadays Instagram offers a large number of filters, which can even be arranged in the desired order. For example, you can put the filter that you use most frequently right at the front. It is interesting that for some time now, you are also able to adjust the filters’ intensity. Although the filters continue to offer subject matter for discussions and some Instagrammers vehemently oppose their use and consider them a no-no, the filters do have the advantage that they render the pictures in the stream more homogeneous.
Liking something and commenting have been part of Instagram from the beginning. In this respect, social networking was always possible. With the introduction of private messages a chat function was integrated; however, this is only rather basic. At least 90% of the messages are spam. On the whole, Instagram is characterized through a simple user interface. I consider this its greatest advantage.
Lines, silhouettes and shadows I. – my most successful photo on Flickr
Flickr works according to a similar principle: upload photos, like, and comment. There are some filters, but the editing options are not as extensive as they are on Instagram. Flickr has a normal web application. Probably the greatest difference is the sort function: pictures can be sorted into their own albums and added to groups. There is also an extensive search function and several licensing models. This points to the fact that this network targets mainly ambitious photographers and professionals who can also sell their pictures via this platform. Photos chosen by editors can be viewed on the Explore page. You can find all sorts of very well edited photos of landscapes and flowers here. There is something for train buffs as well. But where is the food as we know it from Instagram? And there are hardly any cat lovers and fitness junkies to be seen on Flickr.
Lines, silhouettes and shadows II – photo edited with EyeEm
EyeEm joined the competition with the promise to do everything better than Instagram. However, because it has so many diverse functions, it is more complicated compared to Instagram. Photos can be arranged in public albums. And EyeEm features – similar to Flickr – certain photos. The basic social functions are similar to those of other networks. The app itself is free, however, EyeEm cooperates with different enterprises which enables users to contribute to so-called missions. In addition, they can sell photos using the app. The name of the app is a play on words drawing attention to the way sharing photos on social networks creates a poster’s identity: I am what I post.
Flickr and EyeEm are photo social networks that (by now) concentrate on photography and beyond that, also enable social networking. One aspect that needs to be highlighted is the intensive work within the community done by EyeEm – like involving users that take on roles as community managers. Over the last decade, Flickr has established itself as a social network . Then why do people nevertheless only talk about Instagram when discussing photo social networks? Although photos do play a central role at Instagram, these photos are an expression of our day-to-day activities. These photos show that everything is alright at the moment: My cat is OK, I drove my car safely from A to B, and I also had something to eat. And the same applies to the celebrities and stars of this world. Instagram is – as its name implies – designed for the immediate sharing of pictures. The other two apps don’t embody this feature in the same way.
For some time now, Instagram has had competition from new apps like Snapchat: Many users have started sharing everyday occurrences via this application, enabling other users to see what they are doing during the day; the same thing happened on Instagram when it first started. The promise that you can get really close to other people is supported by the very simple editing options and the short retrieval time (stories are only visible for a day). Nowadays important Instagrammers post at most one photo a day of a nice landscape, taken with an expensive camera. The story of how this photo came about, however, is documented with Snapchat. But there are only very few users who manage to create small works of art on Snapchat. As far as most of them are concerned, that’s probably not important anyway. Snapchat has become a competitor of Instagram, because it renews the promise of an authentic moment in time – and it does it better than Instagram. Instagram still promises authenticity more successfully than any other photo social network.
Jörg lives in Berlin and has been taking photos since he was 12. Now he has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram.