What You Don't Get About Instagram

Ilan Nass
by Ilan Nass 21 May, 2014

Popular photo-sharing app, Instagram, has come under some fierce criticism since reaching superstar status shortly after its release in 2010. Despite its 150 million active users, Instagram still seems to ruffle some feathers as to the merits of its popularity and accusations that it's undermining the integrity of professional photography. As covered by numerous articles, it's pretty easy to categorize the groups of people who dislike Instagram, but are there any strong arguments to challenge these opinions? Here we explore some worthwhile answers to a few of Instagram's most common criticisms. 

"It's just a bunch of selfies."

Instagram indisputably catapulted the use of the word "Selfie" into everyday vernacular when it was officially appointed "Oxford's Word of the Year" for 2013. Aside from the copious amounts of furrowed brows, duck lips and off-center faces looking into the distance, Instagram also houses a great number of enriching and informative content. By doing a simple search of the hashtag "#challenge" one might come across a myriad of photos or graphics related to everything from fitness and healthy eating, to creativity through music and literature. Each month, Instagram hosts its own photo challenge in which a graphic is uploaded with a prompt for the type of photo to be taken and uploaded each day. Users have since taken this model and adapted it to many different themes fitting topics such as food, holidays and workout programs. 

After following the success of short video sharing app Vine, Instagram introduced its own video capabilities which have made these challenges even more intriguing. One particular account, FitMenCook, has made a huge impact by squeezing their high-quality, healthy workout-ready recipes into 15-second slots making it near impossible to find an excuse not to eat right. Not only that, but there's been a recent phenomenon with the growth of what're aptly titled "Instagram Boutiques." Through the power of Instagram photos, Gmail, and PayPal, users are able to view a merchant's wares through their profile, email them an order, and make payments electronically for everything from swimsuits to custom jewelry. These people aren't posting selfies, they're providing a service so that's one for the 'gram - haters zero. 

"Instagram is ruining real photography."

This is actually my favorite criticism of Instagram. It's not even a long argument, but simply, what serious photographers sincerely feel threatened by the popularity of a mobile application whose largest portion of users fall between the ages of 15 and 25? As of yet, Time Magazine isn't scouting Instagram photographers for trips to the Middle East, Harper's Bazaar hasn't published any Valencia filtered editorials, and while IG may be an acceptable, at best, resource to vet models, the world of fashion still lives on racks, runways, and between the magazine pages of sexually ambiguous models in nonsensical poses. The fact that Instagram allows pictures to be uploaded from other sources, including those taken by real photographers on real cameras, seems to stand as testament and recognition of the art that all this craziness was derived from. 

At the heart of the matter seems to be the unwillingness of a particular group of people to allow something new to coincide with what they're already comfortable with. In the same way that synthesizers didn't bring about the end of instrumentation, and McDonald's didn't abolish agriculture, our generations Polaroid won't be the end of true photography.  

"Instagram is pointless when I can just upload photos to Facebook."

While uploading photos to the Internet didn't start with Instagram (hey Facebook, Myspace and Xanga!), there's definitely something to be said about the concept of community and how it's executed within a 612 x 612 pixel square. 

On Facebook, you're sentenced to a life of baby pictures and viciously tagged party photos of people who have real jobs that you know in real life. Facebook was born before the time of oversharing, where we were still cautious about letting people into our lives online and that's why you cringe every time you see the 20 or so pending friend requests you dodge every time you log in. With Instagram however, you can essentially build the "life" you want to live with very few obstacles in your way. Here it's possible to have breakfast with Beyoncé in Belize, and guzzle Veuve in Venice with the self-proclaimed (incontestably so) RichKidsofInstagram and still make it to your cubicle by 9 a.m. the next day. Meanwhile on Facebook, "No, I didn't get it Aunt Ruth but I'll check again..."

Ilan Nass is the head of marketing at Fueled, the leading iPhone app builder in New York City, renowned for its award winning mobile design and strategy.