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The Slow Unraveling of Instagram for Photographers


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The Slow Unraveling of Instagram for Photographers

21 Oct 2022 6:07AM   Views : 360 Unique : 255

Does anyone remember when Instagram catered to photographers? Granted, it was quite a long time ago now and much of the world has changed since it came on the scene in 2010 but, thanks in no small part to high-profile backlash, the social media giant finds itself in an unenviable position to be sure.

The tale begins with an iOS-only app that, like many others of the day, served as a platform for users to share and display their photos. Unique to Instagram, however, was a squared-off format (1:1 aspect ratio) designed to display on then-current iPhone screens. Unlike contemporaries like Flickr, Instagram made use of hashtags to help others locate content based on locations, names, camera gear and so on, forever killing the term “pound sign” in the process.

Two years of meteoric growth later and Facebook came a knocking. With pockets full of cash and goals of expanding the app’s reach in mind, Instagram became the property of the “House That Zuckerberg Built” for a cool billion. That same year saw more widespread appeal in the form of both an Android OS and desktop release.

Three years later (2015) the service began, to the eyes of many photo enthusiasts, to truly lose its way. Suddenly, and in effort to level the playing field between itself and rival Snapchat, features like “stories”, multiple image uploads, video capability and messaging found their way into the formula.

Like many platforms before it, the appeal of video and silly filters quickly overtook the photographer-centric nature of Instagram and, in the time since hasn't really looked back. Even the photo-tuned square framing was scrapped in favor of the phone-friendly horizontally dominant aspect ratio.

These days Instagram serves as a sort of hybrid between Facebook’s social media model and SnapChat & TikTok’s short-form user-generated content Reels. And, while photos are still a factor, long gone are the days of their being the focal point (no pun intended) of the service.

In fact, the true focal point of the service of late seems to be endless disappointed users (many of whom have complained publicly) and a history of making poor decisions only to retract them. Some of these include changing the scrolling to horizontal, banning or censoring some of their top draws, removing chronological feed functionality and relying on the same type of algorithms that often find sister brand Facebook in the public crosshairs.

The most recent update, one that decides to forego showing the feeds of the individuals you know and follow, in favor of spamming you with suggested Reels from strangers seems to have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Backlash to this move was enough to, ah hem, go viral - with many users publicly dismissing the app, deleting their accounts or (in the case of the Kardashians), suggesting there are problems with the platform that need to be addressed.

While it has yet to be changed, some addressing of the subject did arrive recently when, on August 12th, Meta released a massive report on the specific workings of their controversial algorithm.

Coming as a surprise to nearly no one, the system is built to do what all social media does - to spread virally rather than to deliver the content users claim to want.

Essentially all suggestions are broken up into Connected and Unconnected designations. Connected, like the name suggests, looks at the accounts you do follow, checks to see which similar posts are the most popular based on interaction, and slaps them on your screen to check out.

Unconnected takes this a step further by doing the same thing but with any posts that are proving popular on the platform.

Neither, you may note, give users what they’ve been clamoring for - more suggestions from the accounts they actually follow.

The reason, or so it seems, has all to do with the fact that users simply tuning in to the accounts they choose to follow isn’t good for the bottom line; a bottom line that is based entirely upon massive traffic numbers and widespread activity, both of which appeal to advertisers.

Sadly, we, the lowly photographers who took the app from literally nothing to over a billion users within that first year alone, are seemingly forever less important with each subsequent update. To date, over 4 billion photos have been uploaded to Instagram and even still, the emphasis on Reels over still shots has many users worried Instagram is simply trying to become TikTok the way they tried to become Snapchat in 2015.

Conclusion: TGFePz (Thank Goodness For ePHOTOzine).

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