Why Instagram is so popular – I couldn’t say it better

Why Instagram is so popular - I couldn't say it better

Why Instagram is so popular - I couldn't say it better

I’ve been wanting to write a post about Instagram for a while, as it’s probably the one app I use most. For a long time there were a number of people talking about how iPhone photos, and Instagram photos in turn, weren’t “real”, basically that they held no value. I say bullshit. Instagram has opened up a new world of art and community that couldn’t have existed without the iPhone or app culture.

When I read this article by Nate Bolt over on Techcrunch it was basically all of my thoughts wrapped up into one, concise article. Nate does a great job of outlining what makes Instagram special: Quality, Audience, Access, Immediacy and Constraints. The final point, Constraint, is exactly why Instagram works, here’s what Nate has to say:

It might seem trivial, but showing one photo at a time is a design decision that creates more value for each image, and enhances your viewing experience. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have the images trapped inside a beautiful iPhone screen. It almost doesn’t matter who you follow—their photos probably look better one at a time. From a UX perspective, we keep learning that interfaces with constraints are successful, and it seems like such a straight-forward principle (140 characters, ahem), but it’s kind of worthless on it’s own. Obviously you can’t introduce constraints without other elements, which is why this is the last point. There’s something enticing about knowing that most Instagram photos are created on the iPhone, since it introduces a NASCAR-like equality. That makes it fun to see what other people can create with the same technical constraints you have. Photography has always been all about the equipment, and not at all about the equipment. Knowing millions of people are creating with roughly the same camera and app as you makes it exciting creatively. So constraints, combined with quality and an audience are what makes Instagram so addictive.

Above is a photo I took of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Reservoir. If you look in the back you can see a thin white line, which is actually the Pacific Ocean. The camera is on the iPhone 4 is amazing, and the social aspect of Instagram allows me to share this amazing site with my friends. Be sure to read Nate’s article, it’s a winner, and if you’re not on Instagram, what are you waiting for?


15 Comments Why Instagram is so popular – I couldn’t say it better

  1. noelster November 29, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    interesting perspective. i’d always thought instagram to be part of the ‘instant nostalgia’ fad that persists. as digital strips away warmth and personality, we somehow want to add it back in, making digital seem less cold and more human, more imperfect, that type of thing.

  2. Bobby Solomon November 29, 2011 at 1:49 AM

    @noelster – I think that’s a part of it’s bad wrap, that it’s trying to make new things feel old, but that’s not why I personally use Instagram, and I doubt why anyone I follow uses it.

    Instagram is all about capturing interesting parts of your life and cataloging it in a beautiful way, and IG makes it easy. I don’t want a bunch of photos that look like they were from the 70’s, I want photos that look amazing that I can share with my friends.

  3. Caroline November 29, 2011 at 2:46 AM

    Would love to use Instagram but I don’t have an iphone (booo!). The thing about it that I am quite jealous of is that from what I can gather, it is a good camera that you pretty much always have on you. I’m a photographer but don’t always carry around my work camera with me, as it is stupidly heavy. So I carry around a small compact. But even then there are times when I don’t have it but do have my phone so inevitably I miss some shots.

    Basically it comes down to this:

    The best camera is he one you have with you.

    Annie Leibovitz recently said it better than I just did, but hope you got the gist!:


  4. Joelle November 29, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    What am I waiting for? An Android app! (Not that I’m bitter.)

  5. Brian O'Shea November 29, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    Thanks for highlighting this article – hadn’t realized why Instagram feels so compelling vs using standalone effects apps like Hipstamatic alone and manually posting to social networks.

    Bobby – curious to get your take on the recent major release to Instagram – while I love the continued improvements overall, I see some danger in losing some of the “constraints” – too many filters being one area of concern.

  6. Bobby Solomon November 29, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    @Caroline & Joelie – iPhone is the place to be! That’s a part of why Instagram works though, the quality and tools are all basically consistent. Once you start developing for Android you have to take into account a million different screen sizes, which I’d imagine would be a nightmare.

    @Brian – The initial update was a bit wonky, but Instagram listens to their users and changed things appropriately. I’m not personally worried about too many filters because I use about 4 at most, my favorite being X Pro 2.

  7. jen November 29, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    i love using instagram. it’s fun, some of my friends are taking amazing photos and it’s super easy. my only peeve with it is photos that are obviously not taken with the iphone being passed off as instagram shots. kind of defeats the whole purpose yeah?

  8. Alexander November 29, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    Personally, as iPhone apps go, I like Instagram alot. It can get some pretty lovely shots. On the contrary, however, I really like my old K1000 a lot better. With some simple tweaks to the aperture or shutter speed you can get some absolutely fantastic photographs with that bit of uncertainty you get with film. It is, however, not convenient for most people to do that, obviously. If you have the chance, though, I really recommend trying manual photography as you can get so much more with the wholesome feeling that you did it yourself, and not an app.

  9. Blake November 30, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    It’s a really good point that Nate makes about constraints — as far as Instagram and it’s UX and usability as an application is concerned. But conversely, I’ve also been amazed by the seemingly limitless post-processing capabilities that you can now do with the iPhone. It’s gotten to the point where I (and many, many people I know) no longer use the built-in IG filters at all, and simply use Instagram as the platform for sharing.

    Processing and edits that would have taken an hour sitting at a desktop with a $$$ copy of Photoshop can now take place while I’m in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. I also call ‘bullshit’ on those that disparage the output — it’s a wonderfully liberating activity that obviously struck a chord with 13M folks and rising…

  10. Ben November 30, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    Really interesting article as it definitely touches upon some valid points.

    I myself do not use Instagram. I completely understand the idea of constraints as I’m a studying photographer who chooses to shoot film for that exact reason. Although my professional work is usually medium format film, that doesn’t mean i don’t shoot digital. I’ve had my Iphone for almost exactly a year and have taken close to 2000 images on it. People always ask me why i don’t download Instagram and the reason is simple – I find the entire concept of shooting a photo and adding some arbitrary filter on it just to make it “look cool” a little strange. It adds some second element that wasn’t fully realized by me. Instead its programed by a third party who think they know what “looks cool”. Ill be completely honest and agree with you. Yes the images are beautiful and the social aspect of the application is fantastic. Im all about sharing and discussing art through social platforms and i do think thats where the future is headed.

    The image you took Bobby is stunning. I love the highlighted outlines of the far trees and the horizon line. I think it would be great blown up (if the resolution could support it haha) but there is only so much i can appreciate when i discover its been run through a filter that makes millions of photographs around the world look almost exactly the same. Sure the subject matter changes but there’s too much thats unreal and not enough control on the photographers part. Maybe I’m over thinking it way too much which is definitely possible but its just something ive been thinking about a lot lately. What do you think?

    I really love this site and the amount of work you put into it. So well curated and managed – It really shows! I check it everyday and find it really thought provoking which is probably why i keep rambling haha.

  11. Caitlin R. December 29, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    I’m completely addicted to Instagram but there is some flawed commentary in this article. Many users are now simply uploading pictures onto Instagram that they took with their fancy-schmancy SLR cameras. This drives me nuts – the magic of Instagram lies in the idea that these great shots came from a phone camera!

  12. William Morris January 4, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Dear Ben,

    Unfortunately, arts & crafts died one hundred years ago. Even I have learned to accept that.



  13. Bobby Solomon January 4, 2012 at 9:15 PM

    @William – That probably couldn’t be farther from the truth, you’re just not looking hard enough.

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