Visual content is the new wave sweeping over the social space - its procurement, its display, sharing and curation. After Pinterest, the next hot buzzword on the social media circuit is Instagram.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a mobile application for photo-sharing. It is available on both of the popular mobile app marketplaces - Apple’s iTunes and Google Play. Using the app, you can upload pictures from your phone onto the Instagram network. This network offers all the currently hot social networking features like following friends, liking & commenting on pictures and hashtagging.
How does it work?
You can only work Instagram from a mobilephone with an internet connection. The app opens to the homepage (similar to Facebook’s News Feed). The homepage displays pictures uploaded by you and everyone that you are following. Under each picture is displayed the name of the uploader and a caption. You can like the picture by clicking on the heart icon or leave a comment by clicking on the speech bubble.
The toolbar at the bottom offers 5 options: Homepage (icon: house), Popular pictures (icon: star), Upload (icon: camera), News (icon: speech bubble with heart) about followers and following, Settings (icon: rectangle layout). The settings are pretty basic and combine search, photo-mining and profile settings options. There is a privacy option whereby only the people you approve will be able to follow your photos (similar to Twitter’s private tweets).
Personally, I think Instagram is rather clunky at the moment. Observe the following steps required to post a picture:
- Click Instagram icon, which takes you to the homepage.
- Click on the camera icon to upload a picture.
- Pick a source (Camera / Photo Gallery)
- Once you select the picture, crop it into a square and hit Accept.
- Pick a light/contrast setting from 4 options (Normal / Amaro / Rise / Hudson)
- Caption, Geotag & select networks to share on (Twitter / Facebook / Foursquare / Tumblr) & hit Upload.
Remember that each of these operations are being performed on the tiny mobilephone screen. So each screen is crowded and offers limited options. Moreover, six actions to share a single picture make Instagram a pretty cumbersome affair.
On the upside, Instagram is faster than Twitpic, Tweetdeck or Seismic’s photo-sharing features. It also loads & synchronizes with associated services faster than Flickr. This is definitely a go-to app for live pictorial coverage of events.
The Facebook angle
The reason Instagram is a hot topic right now is because it was taken over by Facebook for a rumoured $1 billion this April. All the sources, including the Instagram blog say that it will exist independently and evolve. In the meantime, numerous pages, groups and apps have surfaced on Facebook, relating to Instagram.
The Instagram app lets you add share to Facebook through the app. An album titled ‘Instagram Photos’ is created in your Facebook Photos. Each photo that you Instagram share, is posted to this album and appears on your timeline.
The one that I found interesting was Instagram feed for your fan pages. This app requires you to let Instagram access all your pages, after which you can set which page to show an Instagram tab on. After this, your Instagram feed shows up as a separate tab on the page that you’ve selected for it.
The word on the street associates Facebook's interest in Instagram with wanting to acquire a competitor. Before the takeover, Instagram's features do seem attractive for a standalone app. Especially if you've tired of the complexity of Facebook and the noise on Twitter, Instagram would seem like a neat, exclusive circle to share your life via pictures. With this takeover though, the dynamics just changed and it remains to be seen how this affects the Instagram loyalists and what powers it adds to the online superpower that is Facebook.
What is Instagram missing?
Instagram has quite a few glaring issues:
- The process to delete a picture is not intuitive at all. To do this, look for the three dots icon under a picture and click on it. It gives you an option to Share or Delete on your own pictures. On other people’s pictures, this gives you an option to Flag for review. I can’t think of a worse feature for a content-sharing site and a social network to have neglected. In an age when timelines are constantly being edited, deleted and reposted, permanent marks are a flaw.
- Hitting ‘Back’ on your phone does not take you to the previous screen but back to the homescreen. Now remember the six cumbersome steps and think of how much more frustrating they get when you make a mistake in Step 5.
- Instagram doesn’t have a web interface! You cannot access your feed, find friends or even update your profile from a computer. The only way to do all of these is through your smartphone app. Even if your phone is your best friend, having an online presence seems mandatory, especially considering Instagram targets highly evolved digital media users.
- Taking off from the above, you also cannot upload pictures online. This means you can only post pictures that you have on your phone. If your best pictures are not shot on your phone, you have to go through the cumbersome process of transferring them to your phone to upload them to Instagram. This completely kills the advantage Instagram has over Tweetdeck or even Twitpic.
- Once you upload an Instagram picture, a copy of it gets saved to your Gallery under the Instagram folder. Since uploads can only happen from a picture stored on the phone, this means duplicated content. Your available memory space shrinks by twice the picture’s size every time you upload.
- An Instagram picture shared on a Facebook shows on the Timeline but not on the News Feed. What’s the point of that?
- Care about your copyright? After Pinterest, Instagram is downright scary in this regard. By uploading your pictures, you grant Instagram global royalty-free rights over them.
- If you want to delete your Instagram account, you can’t do it on your phone (though all its other features work only on the phone). You need to visit this page and request an account deletion. Check out Instagram’s final message to you:
“Your photos, comments, likes, and friendships (everything) will be removed permanently and will not be recoverable. Additionally, you will not be able to sign up with the same username again.”
It’s not clear what happens to the pictures that you’ve shared on other social networks through Instagram once you’ve deleted your account. But going by the lack of synchronization between Facebook and Instagram deleted photos, I’ll guess that the pictures still stay up there.
What’s more, you need to think very carefully about deleting since if you decide to join the service again, you won’t be allowed the same username again. I don’t see the need for this clause except to threaten users who want to leave. That’s neither gracious nor good business sense.