I’m assuming that you already know about Instagram. It’s a mobile app that is used for social photo sharing. Users take snapshots, apply a fun selection of filters, then upload them. Your friends the Instagram app to see your photos in a stream along with the other people that they follow. It’s like Twitter, but with pictures instead of words. Your friends can “like” or comment on your photos. All photos are square, like a digital Polaroid. The filters within the app are designed to make your photo look aged or over-processed. This is deliberate and turns digital photography into a retro experience. There is even a filter called “1977.”
I have been an Instagram user since the beginning and I have used it off and on. I’ve started using it more recently, and I can’t shake the feeling that it is too limited in its purpose.
Instagram is only available if are using an Apple mobile device (iPhone, iPod or iPad.) Despite being on the market since 2010, they have still yet to release an Android version of the app. The developers have been saying that it’s coming, but no date has been announced that I am aware of. I’m disappointed that it has taken so long. I have a lot of friends who have Android phones and I would like to share Instagram photos with them. You can’t share your photo stream on the web. You are able to send someone a single image using a link, but there is no general web interface to Instagram. You cannot manage your account or browse your photos on a computer. I find that to be a real turn-off. It limits Instagram to being just a toy.
As I have already mentioned, all pictures have to be square. That means that you need to take those pictures using the Instagram app itself, which makes the square pictures. The problem with that is that if you are taking a picture of something important, all you end up with is a square picture in your photo library. If you forego the Instagram camera and use the real camera app, then import it into Instagram, the result is a rectangular photo is that letterboxed with black bars. I’d wish they would drop the square dimension requirement. If that ruins the spirit of the app, then at least let me choose between black or white bars when letterboxing my image. The background of the app is white, so a white border would look less obtrusive than the thick black ones they use now.
Some users manage to post some amazing quality photos on Instagram. I’m not sure how they are achieving this. When I take a picture with my phone, I can’t always tell if it is really in focus just by viewing it on the screen of the phone itself. Often times, once I get one of my pictures onto my computer and see it on a large screen, I realize that portions are blurry, or the lighting isn’t as good as I’d hoped. Perhaps I am too picky, but if I am going to take the time to upload a picture somewhere, I want to do it once and have it be the best quality it can be. I’ve gone so far as to take a normal photograph, send it to my computer, edit and enhance it in Photoshop, crop it to a perfect square, re-sync the new image back to my phone, then use the phone to post it to Instagram. That is a ridiculous work flow, but it’s the best way to get a picture into my stream that meets my quality standards. That said, I am probably over-thinking the whole thing.
Overall, Instagram is a cool service that is built around photos of questionable quality. Again, it’s a toy. It’s fun to play with, but I still prefer to use Flickr for my online photos. With Flickr I can view and share the best quality photos on my phone, computer, or TV. All it is lacking is the fun social model that Instagram has. There is a different use case for each service, I suppose. What if Flickr or Picasa bought Instagram and incorporated its features? It’s crossed my mind. I can’t decide if that would be a good idea or not.