Sunday, February 17, 2013

Love You, Mean It! The Instagram Phenomenon

2019 Addendum to this post. The nice thing about self-publishing online is that you can endlessly edit and update posts (yes I know some people might find that practice not in keeping with the nature of blog posts, but I make my own rules here).  So with regard to what I wrote in 2013 about IG, it is pretty "dated", IG has grown and changed in interesting ways, Facebook bought it for a bazillion dollars a while back, young people like IG and are abandoning FB because FB is full of boring parents, grandparents, etc.) and I sincerely hope that Zukerberg and his crew don't ruin IG like they did FB.

I've been fascinated with Instagram. Instagram is an iPhone photo-app and online community (also available on Android). But more than that, Instagram is a phenomenon of gargantuan magnitude (90 million active Instagrammers in January 2013, 40 million Instagram posts daily). In my Integrating Social Media post, I noted features of Instagram. Today's post extends and elaborates.

Screenshot of some of my "likes" in Instagram

Instagram is a social media site and photo app that allows users (Instagrammers or Igers) to take pictures, apply filters to their photos, tag them, upload them to Instagram, follow other Instagrammers, and interact online using their iPhones, Androids, and other mobile devices. One can also see and interact with Instagram through a variety of apps and sites that function on computers. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2012, 13% of Internet users use Instagram, and it is especially appealing to adults ages 18-29, African-Americans, Latinos, women, and urbanites. I'm not sure how many Instagrammers automatically cross post to Twitter, but a 15-second snapshot on Twitter on the evening of February 16, 2013 (see my video below) gave me an appreciation for how active (phrenetic?) the Instagram "community" (if you can call it that) is on Twitter.

Instagrammers often tag (hashtag) their images. Adding hashtags (word preceeded by the # symbol) to uploaded content is a way to make that online content searchable, groupable, and identifiable with a particular group. Hashtags are used in Instagram, Twitter, and TumblrFlickr, Delicious, Scoopit, and to a lesser degree, Pinterest. Instagrammers' uploaded photos often include multiple hashtags (10 or more sometimes) for maximum exposure and reach. Instagram-related and photography-related hashtags that I identified Sunday Feb. 17, 2013 in about 15 minutes on Twitter included (but were not limited to) the following.


and #boycottInstagram

Similar findings (commonly used tags) have been shared in several ways. For a list of Instagram's most popular tags, see Webstagram's top 100 tags.

Popularity in Instagram is measured in terms of followers and likes. Instagrammers want to be seen, they want to be followed, and they want to be liked, or in the world of Instagram, "hearted".

Interestingly, Instagrammers like (heart) much more than they comment. (It's faster and easier to click than it is to type), although one also occasionally sees some very long posts. Comments are typically short, descriptive, or funny; and they often elicit shorter and sometimes equally amusing replies. Unsurprisingly, one can even buy Instagram followers and likes.

Instagram image subject matter varies as widely as its users. On the morning of February 19, 2013 I did a little study on Instagram. For about 15 minutes, I used Tweetdeck to watch the #instagram hashtag feed (Tweetdeck allowed me to see tweets in columns, grouped by whatever hashtags are included in each tweet). I collected (re-tweeted with a new hashtag) some of the images that caught my eye, using the hashtag #15minutesofinterestinginstafindsontweetdeckfeb192013 (yes, it was a ridiculously long hashtag) to group my Instagram-finds so I could look at them later. Common Instagram photos included travel photos, landscapes, cityscapes, nightclubs, street life, road trips, parties, beach scenes, ski trips, food, flowers, fashion, nails, tatoos, shoes, animals, celebs, friends, family, selfies, events, objects of desire, etc. etc. Some images were highly stylized through filters and apps. Others seemed to be unmodified snapshots. There's a sense of immediacy, a here-and-now quality, in many of these images. Others are quite intimate, sometimes too much so, and perhaps a bit narcissistic. Some are blatantly transgressive or voyeuristic. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of self-identified photographers sharing really beautiful pictures, and a lot of creative people making and sharing all sorts of unusual images (art?) in Instagram. I couldn't help but wonder, who are all these 90 million people (beyond the snapshot provided in the 2012 PEW study)? But I guess there's no easy answer to that question. Instagrammers' names and bios and are as unpredictable and diverse as their images. Some of my favorite IG names from my February 2013 foray included:


The overwhelming popularity of Instagram has spurred all kinds of secondary markets, ready to transform Instagram images into other things (canvas prints ready to hang, tee shirts, coffee mugs, etc.); to sell Instagram images to businesses; and to monitize the Instagram phenomenon by any means possible. Purchased in 2012 by Facebook for a reported 1 billion dollars, one can safely speculate that the monetizing of Instagram will only grow, and that Instagram users will need to scramble to stay abreast of changes in Instagram terms of service.

So, what do I think of Instagram after about a few short months of immersion? I like the diversity, weirdness, banality, creativity, and monumental size of Instagram. There's something about Instagram that captures something larger than just what's being depicted or commented on in individual images. Like many art forms, Instagram captures the universal in the particulars. Individual Instagram images convey our collective interests, experiences, stories, and values. While critics decry Instagrammer bad behaviors, and the pointlesness and redundancy of much of what gets posted to Instagram, my own forays into Instagram-world give me pause for appreciation and even awe of this  vibrant, unwieldy community. I also like my own little corner of Instagram. I follow about 100 people, only about half of whom I know, and I am similarly followed. I enjoy some of the images I see, and I study and learn from others. And I just love getting Instagram hearts! At first glance, a sense of affiliation within the Instagram community or any particular Instagram hashtag group seemed incomprehensible to me. There's just too much, it's all quite diffused, and connections amongst Instagrammers seem nebulous and opaque. Yet, within my own tiny little circle of follows, followers, and hearts, I both seek and sense a loose connection to my own little Instagram network. One can only conclude that this feeling is similar for other Instagrammers. So in summary, I see tremendous potential in/with/through Instagram for creative personal expression, social commentary, fun, experimentation, exploration, connecting, and learning...all of which are good ingredients for art education

p.s.,  - you, mean it!


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