Why I Uninstalled Instagram

I installed Instagram the day it was released, evangelized it to all of my friends, and loved it enough to create the definitive Flickr group and snag the Tumblr URL for a curated stream of Instagram images. I was an active participant in the company’s Get Satisfaction customer support page, and devoured news coverage about the app with gusto.

Yet for the past few months Instagram has sat unused in one of my main photo app folders. Today, I finally went ahead and pulled the plug. Instagram is now gone from my trusty portable camera (aka my iPhone 3GS).

So how did this beloved, VC-supported, media darling app go from my trusty #1 choice to an app I don’t miss at all? They’ve been ruined by their initial success. Too cocky from early growth and VC lust, Instagram has thus far failed to listen to user demand for the most basic feature any quality iPhone photo app should provide and has allowed their community to fall out of control in some unpleasant ways.

Time will tell if they can correct it, if they have a critical mass of casual users who don’t care about their obvious flaws, or if competitors like PicPlz can quietly continue building superior products and eventually blow them out of the water.

The filters are too heavy handed

The end result of applying an Instagram filter is usually much more forgiving than the original photograph. So much so, in fact, that terrible images can be saved with a single in-app click. While I appreciate the technical skill involved in creating the filter algorithms, I don’t particularly enjoy seeing mediocre photographs dressed up in superior programming technique.

I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that even in iPhoneography a quality image should start out as a well composed photograph. Apps like Instagram make it easier to mask a crappy image, and that’s both boring from my perspective as an audience, and depressing from my perspective as a participant in a new artistic movement. It’s the same reason I’m weaning myself off of apps like Hipstamatic.

The “Popular” algorithm feels like it has become a closed group

Sure, this could easily be interpreted as a complaint that my photos aren’t featured as Popular. Cut me some slack for a moment and trust me when I say that I used Instagram as a photo editing app, photo sharing app, and photo discovery app in that order. I never saw it as a vehicle for soliciting kudos from strangers.

However, as the admin for the Flickr group of Instagram users I have watched several discussion threads about the Popular section with interest. It isn’t entirely clear how photos are pushed into the app’s Popular section, but it seems fairly evident that it is heavily weighted towards the number of Likes a photo garners, with the time period across which the Likes were earned as a secondary criteria.

The result is that the same photographers continuously show up as Popular. No question they are talented artists producing beautiful images, but part of Instagram’s claim to fame is the sheer number of signups over a short duration. You can’t tell me that with over 1 million users nobody else is producing images worthy of being highlighted to the masses. If I wanted to see the same handful of photographers over and over I could just follow them on Flickr.

Another side effect is that users recognize the digital circle jerk, and have begun postulating how to beat the algorithm and get their images into the Popular section. People now put in time daily checking Popular, and then following and liking everybody who has a photo or a comment on that page. This totally devalues the currency of followers and likes. More people are using them in the hopes of soliciting reciprocity than because they genuinely like a photographer or think a specific image is outstanding and deserves recognition.

Instagram is more about dSLR photos than iPhone photos

More and more photos in the Instagram stream are taken with a dSLR, processed on a computer and before being added to an iPhone and uploaded. I just don’t see the point. Part of the initial buzz surrounding Instagram was that it combined a dozen unique filters with the immediacy of mobile photography and sharing.

After 6 months Instagram STILL doesn’t support full resolution

This is the most unforgivable issue for me. I could overlook everything discussed above, and still use Instagram situationally as an image editing app with some really gorgeous filters if only I could keep my final photographs at the max resolution. People started asking for this the day the app was released, and the thread about full resolution photos has remained one of the most active and one-sided discussions at Instagram’s Get Satisfaction site for almost half a year now. Yet still the best we have from the company is a 5 month old reply saying they will supply this most basic feature “in the next update or two.” (They didn’t, in case you’re wondering.)

I have seen an unconfirmed statement that all but the 2 most recently released were written for a specific, tiny (612px)  size rather than as scaleable vector. As much respect as I have for the beautiful filters themselves, this is just poor design and a failure to understand what users expect from a photography app. One need only spend 10 minutes browsing leading iPhoneography blogs, such as Life In Lofi, to see how highly valued full, or at least 1200+ pixel, resolution is. Instead Instagram delivers images that are useless in print form. Call me wacky, but I still like to print the occasional photograph.

11 thoughts on “Why I Uninstalled Instagram

  1. Completely agree with everything you’ve said here! Not supporting full-res is a huge issue, and I’ve also noticed the large number of users who are uploading dSLR shots. It takes all the fun out of sharing what are ostensibly/supposed to be iPhone photos. I’ve stopped using the discovery aspect of the service and just use it to view photos that friends take (poorly composed or not), but… yeah. Unless the software makes some big changes soon, I’ll probably find myself jumping off the Instagram boat, too.

    1. A new thread was started on the Flickr Instagram group asking for opinion on the growing number of non-iPhone photos showing up in the stream. I’m curious to see whether people agree with us or think it’s totally cool to turn Instagram into a Flickr clone (without the kickass web interface).

      A new free app called Dropico just hit the App Store, very similar to Instagram but with more social networks supported for sharing. There are some huge flaws (such as not saving the edited photo to your phone, whoops!) but it claims to offer full res support. I haven’t been able to make it work, and comments on the LifeInLoFi.com article about it indicated nobody else has either (yet). Also, Qbro is a $0.99 Instagram clone that promises full res “very soon.” Can’t wait to see somebody actually deliver on that promise (other than picplz, who nailed it a while ago).

      Also, your domain name is outstanding.

  2. Good photographers will use “popular apps” and will make the photos shine. It’s not really about the tool, but what you are capable of doing with them.

  3. Outstanding argument. I, too, have practically abandoned Instagram after an exciting first few weeks.

    And I could not agree more with this line if you made me: “I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that even in iPhoneography a quality image should start out as a well composed photograph.”

  4. I agree with you, especially when it comes to Instargram becoming a showcase for DSLR photos. I think Instagram should solve this problem by handling it the way Hipstamatic handles their contests – the only photos that are allowed to be posted are one taken in their app. Instagram can still allow photos to be brought in and filtered-but NOT published into the stream. It’d be interesting to see how much that’d effect what is featured on there.

    1. I wonder if a check for iPhone as the camera-type in EXIF info of imported images would work?

      I suppose ultimately it’s just easier not to follow people who aren’t posting mobile photography, since that’s what I prefer to see. I just watched an interview with the 2 founders of Instagram, their vision of the app becoming a platform, and what that platform might look like, got me thinking. I fear a Why I Reinstalled Instagram post is looming. 🙂

  5. Hi Nox 🙂

    So this is why you’ve been MIA from IG 🙂 I didn’t know you were so passionate about those issues you wrote above.

    Let me start first by saying that I completely understand your point of view. I was like you too. I was taking a very idealistic way about IG to the point of almost being militant.

    But in time I realized that if I wanted to keep my ‘vision’ about the a ‘perfect’ Instagram I would’ve had to do exactly the same like you, quit Instagram.

    I couldn’t do that, I love Instagram so much and I’ve built a very good relationship with my following and followers that we have our own small IG world. A world in which we can appreciate each other’s photos (taken by iPhone or not), each other’s comments and each other’s like. We have become like a small family.

    Some of the members of this family were already a very good Photographer to start with, you can see from their photos (taken by iPhone or not), but most of them were just casual IG users. But you know what happened? The more able began to teach the casuals, how to take better photo, how to produce a certain effect, which app is best to be used for which type of photo, etc etc etc. The result is that we’ve been growing each other each day and I can see the quality of the photos that they’ve taken increased.

    Nowdays I don’t care about the Popular page, not as much as before anyway. I don’t care about if a photo was taken by iPhone or DSLR anymore, because in truth, in my family most of us take iPhone photos, very very few take photo with DSLR.

    In the recent Global Instameet event. I had an opportunity to organised the Meetup in London (checkout the hashtag #InstameetLondon). It was a lovely evening, there were about 20 of us who were quite passionate about IG, and everybody took photos with iPhone 🙂

    Yes, IG it’s not perfect, they lack many many things, but for me, IG has been not merely a ‘Flickr’ clone, but also a place to meet people, engaging in conversation, learn from each other, and of course admiring other people’s work.

    All I’m saying is, don’t give up on IG yet, it has been what … 7-8 months since it was open to the public? It’s still got a long long way to even reach a certain quality. How long was it for Flickr to get to perfection? How long for Twitter? How long for Facebook?

    Anyway, I did see your post in IG recently, so you must’ve been back 🙂 I hope you are staying longer this time 🙂 And I hope you can give IG a second chance.

    Oh .. and a belated congratulations on becoming LILF’s writer!!

    Sorry for a very long comment.

    Best Regards,
    Chris Prakoso

  6. Personally, I think Instagram is a very cool app (which, unfortunately, stopped allowing you to save your processed images in your phone). Since it’s free and does a good job of “funkifying” my photos (heh), I don’t have anything to complain about.

    First, it engages casual users enough that they may eventually take interest in proper photography. The forgiving filters give them enough confidence to experiment, and perhaps, eventually, come up with something really good.

    Secondly, it’s a free app. For something that does all this for nothing, I’d say it’s pretty fantastic.

    Third, the target demographic of the app is broad enough to be appreciated even by people who are not serious “iPhoneographers”.

    Fourthly, the Popular picture feed is mostly for socializing, IMHO. Either a picture is truly remarkable and people have to commend the photographer, or the photographer has a lot of friends and just likes to say, ‘hey’. For those who aren’t into that kind of thing, they can just ignore it (like I do).

    I do, however, agree with you that it would be nice if they supported full res.

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