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.