I use Instagram a fair bit. Once upon a time, I used it a lot, though now that the craze has cooled, it’s become less of a fun place to hang out. I don’t enjoy scrolling through my feed the way I used to, and I suddenly realized it had gone past “this program has a couple things that bother me” to “I’m beginning to actively despise this program.”
Facebook spent $1 billion dollars on Instagram just one year ago, and the only thing that’s changed since is that Instagram has joined Facebook in its slow slide to irrelevance.
Yet - like Facebook - it’s still the place everyone is, like a restaurant you hate the food at but end up going back to because that’s where your friends are. Of course, some of those same friends are on Snapchat, but they’re only there for seven seconds at a time. Snapchat is fast food Instagram, with more pictures of poop.
Here are the top 10 things that frustrate me the most about Instagram.
1. It forces me to make all my widescreen pictures square.
Look, Instagram. We just now finally got people away from the 4:3 aspect ratio. We’ve finally all thrown out our CRT televisions. YouTube switched to a widescreen browser. The days of standard definition are behind us, and yet here you are, homesick for a period of time we haven’t totally gotten away from yet.
When I take a picture, my widescreen iPhone uses its entire screen. I frame up the shot and snap the picture.
But when I switch on the app, Instagram asks me which part of the picture I want to crop out.
“None of it, Instagram,” I say, if I were talking to my phone like a crazy person.
“No, you have to crop some of it,” says Instagram, if my psychosis had descended to the point I believed my phone were talking back to me.
“It’s a really well-framed photo,” I protest feebly, my courage quietly flickering out as the machines express their domination over me yet again. “I don’t want to give up any of it. I lose information I want in the frame.”
“Well either, you crop some of it, or you don’t get to post it at all,” Instagram says with a smirk. Defeating me has become such a simple game for it as my spirit weakens.
Soon after, I have a picture that looks like this, and my soul is dead within me.
2. It insists I consider all my options in regards to cropping, filters, blur effect, etc.
Look, I’m awfully specific in what I want to post to Instagram anyway. So I don’t mind spending a minute or two choosing filters and getting my cropping perfect and the whole thing. But for all the times that I don’t want to toss a filter on (and Instagram filters get uncooler by the day), the app doesn’t care.
Do you know how many unnecessary steps Instagram has? Let’s go through it, shall we?
Let’s hit the button to open Instagram.
It’ll go to my “Home” feed first, which is fine. I spend much more time scrolling through other people’s feeds than I do posting my own shots, so this is the right place to send me. But since I want to upload now, I hit the blue “Camera” button in the middle.
It goes to the camera app, in case I want to take a picture using the Instagram camera, which I most assuredly do not. So I hit the (unmarked) “Photos” button on the corner of the screen, and it takes me to a list of folders I could pull from – on mine, it has three:
1. My Camera Roll, which has all the photos on my phone
2. My Instagram folder, which has all the photos I already uploaded to Instagram
3. My Photo Stream, which has the last 1,000 photos I’ve taken with my phone.
Assuming I don’t want to keep uploading the same photos to Instagram over and over – which is an assumption I’m happy to have the app make – if it just took me to either my Camera Roll or My Photo Stream (which have nearly identical content) I’d be perfectly happy. But it doesn’t want to rush me. It wants me to stop, think, and wonder if I really should upload the same six pictures I put up yesterday.
Instead, I go to my Camera Roll, which shows me all of my pictures.
I click on the one I want to post, but first it takes me to a screen used just for cropping pictures – even though, as we’ve covered, I don’t really want to. No matter, here we are. I frame up the shot and hit “Crop.”
A spinning wheel appears as algorithms inside the program work to crop my picture, then eventually the app takes me to an “Edit” screen.
What if I don’t want to edit the picture? What if I’m fine with what I shot on the camera? Doesn’t matter. We’re going here anyway.
On this screen, I can muddle over some generic filters for a moment, add a bad blur effect, maybe an ugly frame (I won’t get to pick which one – just whichever one comes with the filter I picked). Or I can hit that button on the right that looks like a drawing of a sun designed for a fascist’s flag. It’ll add a strange contrast/sharpening filter to the whole picture. When I’m finished, I’ll hit “Next.”
Now I can finally share the photo! Look at this screen – it has multiple options on it. If I don’t want to do something, I can skip it without having to go through a million different screens. Why did it take so long to get to this screen?
I type in a caption, choose where besides Instagram I want to send it, and bam –
It takes me back to my “Home” screen, so I can see my picture up there with everyone else’s.
What if I wanted to upload more than one picture, though? Well, it looks like I’m going to have to start the same process all over again – and quickly, too, if I want these pictures to be near each other in people’s feeds. I hit the camera button again…
3. It provides such limited editing options I am forced to download other applications.
I understand this one sounds like I want it both ways – last time I wanted less editing, this time I want more? Let me explain.
What I want as an Instagram user is a streamlined process from photo-taking to uploading. Somewhere along the way – preferably right after I select the photo – I’d like a two-button option: one that says “Edit,” the other that says “Upload.” That way, I can specify if I’m fine with this photo as is, or if I’d like to edit them before they go up.
If I hit edit, I would like to be given a lot more options than I’m given now. Rather than generic filters, maybe I could use pieces of these different filters individually. Add a vignette, or a bluish cast. I could adjust the contrast or the saturation by hand. Maybe even make a frame that holds multiple pictures in it. But that would require Instagram to treat me like an actual content creator who wants control over what I upload.
Instead, I’m forced to download a number of different apps to access those features. I might take the photo in VSCO Cam, edit it with Instaplus, then make a photo with multiple images in Diptic. It’s a long, frustrating process, and after you do it once or twice, you give up because you figure there has to be something better to do with your time.
Sure, I don’t ever really find anything, but the point remains.
I made this picture while waiting for a movie at SXSW
last year. It took me over an hour.
4. A huge chunk of what people post is nonsense.
Here’s the problem: the culture of Instagram has reached a point that people feel the need to post everything. It's a cyclical process. Once you see other people post certain things, you respond by posting the same things yourself, because that's what the space seems to be used for. So bad habits have a way of multiplying.
I pulled some pictures off my Instagram to give an example of this. Keep in mind, these are all real pictures uploaded by people I follow in the last 48 hours*.
*Please, don't be offended if you find your picture here: I'm critiquing the overall Instagram culture - not your specific posts.
There are a number of things on Instagram that come up that I have no interest in every seeing again, yet every day, there's more of them. For example: Food you made.
Or, something you're about to drink.
And what you're going to drink it in.
Or the fast-food restaurant you're eating at.
Or the music you're listening to.
Or things you're thinking about buying.
Or the post you find so inspirational.
Or the fact that your pets are near you.
Even if they aren't doing anything.
Or what's directly in front of you.
No matter how uninteresting it is.
And please, no more downloade pictures of the celebrity you find attractive.
Not even on #mancrushmonday
And even if we can't get rid of all of that - can we at least try and get rid of this?
Stop encouraging this, people. Please. They’ll stop doing it if we stop encouraging it.
5. There’s no way to make lists (and it caps you at 200 follows).
Look, there are people who are your friends who you’re going to follow on Instagram. Many of them are going to say to you, “hey, did you see my picture on Instagram?” from time to time, and at least some of that time, you need to be able to say “yes.” So I keep following a lot of people who post constantly, even if most of what they post is excruciatingly dull.
But look: I can make lists on Facebook. I can make lists on Twitter. In most avenues of social networking, I can control my own experience. Why not here?
If I wanted to divide my feed up by interests (“Friends,” “Photographers,” “Celebrities,” “Constant Posters,” etc.), I’m out of luck. I get one feed, and if I’ve got six or seven friends who clog it with nonsense all the time, then those are the only friends whose pictures I’m going to see.
6. Finding your friends is a massive pain, finding someone who isn’t your friend is almost impossible.
This has gotten much better – it used to be the only way to find someone was to ask them their username, memorize it (“okay, so wiltj237r, I’ll definitely remember that when I look at my phone again”), then search for it later. Get the username a little wrong? Looks like you’re going to have to text them and ask them again.
It was worse if you wanted to follow a celebrity – you had to have come across the tweet where they gave out their Instagram handle (if they did) to enter it into Instagram and find them.
Now, the search features are better – they at least understand that you’re looking for a person, even if it probably can’t find them – and Instagram has feature that tells you which of your Facebook friends have connected Instagrams (though it identifies them by Instagram name, so it may be hard to figure who "xXxcrazyheartxXx" really is).
For some reason, that last section is under “Instagram Settings” rather than “Explore.” But of course, when it comes to Instagram, nothing’s intuitive.
Compare that to Twitter, or Facebook, both of which constantly have a sidebar up showing me people they think I should befriend/be following, based on my preferences. Instagram has no idea what my preferences are, and they’d have no concept of how to send me recommendations even if they did.
7. Speaking of, the “Explore” feature is basically useless.
This section shows a collection of pictures that are popular right now. I don’t know if these pictures are selected, or just collected by algorithm. It doesn’t matter. They’re always horrible.
This would be a great place to see interesting pictures, shot by interesting people, but that’s not what it is. It’s just pictures that are getting a lot of “likes.” Which means that on an average day, the section looks like this:
- A celebrity’s picture of their view of the pool on their vacation.
- A celebrity’s picture of the outfit they’re going to wear at an award show or interview.
- A picture of food from a food website, with the recipe printed illegibly in the corner
- Three pictures of members of One Direction, copied from the web and uploaded by fan accounts.
- A picture of sneakers, uploaded by a shoe website.
- Four “inspirational” phrases, either on top of a stock photo of a girl in a ballerina costume, or just on blank background.
- A stock photo of a kitten.
Of course, that’s not the only problem with the “Explore” section. The other is:
8. There’s no way to tell who the popular users are.
The “Explore” feature shows you popular photos, but not the popular users. And it doesn’t let you, you know, explore. If I wanted to find world class photographers who are uploading their work on Instagram, I could probably find that – but only if I did a web search for such a list, memorized their Instagram names, then returned to the app to search for them. There’s no other way.
Would it be so hard to create categories? I could see what celebrities have the most followers, which photographers are commented on the most.
Or even if I couldn’t have that – why can’t I repost someone else’s work? I can re-tweet someone to all my followers, I can share something I found on Facebook. If I’m following someone who has an awesome picture, why can’t I let my followers see it, too?
Allowing the user to promote other people’s content encourages good content. Tons of people are following Ryan Gosling on Instagram, because he’s Ryan Gosling, famous handsome charming person. Celebrities will have followers on every platform, regardless of what they post (note: I do not know if Ryan Gosling's Instagram feed is good or not. He's just an example. Don't kill me, Baby Goose fans).
But good social media allows users to create celebrities within the narrow bounds of that site’s culture. People who use Twitter or Reddit well develop followings (heck, some of them end up with TV shows). It would be basically impossible for that to happen on Instagram.
9. The “photo map” feature doesn’t let you tag your photos where you took them, only where you are when you post them.
Sorry if you waited until you got home to post the pictures you took on top of Mt. Everest, but the app tells me that all these pictures were taken at the Newark Airport during a layover.
10. Facebook won’t allow it to work with Twitter anymore.
Instagram used to work perfectly with Twitter – you posted a picture to Twitter, and when someone clicked on your tweet, the picture would pop up right below the text. It still does it if you upload the picture directly to Twitter.
But if you post something to Twitter through Instagram, only the link appears. The user has to be intrigued enough by your caption that they click on the link, because they know doing so will route them away from Twitter to a webpage.
So, why doesn’t it work with Twitter anymore? Mind-bogglingly small-minded thinking.
Facebook purchased Instagram because it was such a dominant app. But they didn’t like the fact that it blended so perfectly with Twitter that users were constantly sending their pictures there. So they made it less fun to do that, hoping you’d decide to only send your pictures to Facebook instead.
Think about that for a second. If Instagram was such a valuable commodity that Facebook was willing to spend a billion dollars to acquire it, why would they want to undercut an aspect of it that made it so popular? Do they really think that people’s response to that will be “well, I guess I’ll use Twitter less!” as opposed to “well, I guess I’ll find another app that uploads pictures to Twitter!”
Here’s an analogy for you. Let’s say that McDonald’s bought Coca-Cola. And after a short period of time, they said, “all these people are drinking Coke, but not in our restaurant! We need to make it so that if you want Coke, you have to come to McDonald’s.” So they change Coke’s distribution so that you can only buy it in McDonald’s.
“Coke is the most popular soda in the world,” McDonald’s says. “People will do anything to have it. What are you going to do if it becomes inconvenient to get it. Drink Pepsi?”
Well, yes. That’s what people will do. They’ll drink Pepsi, even if they don’t like it as much as Coke. Or they’ll drink the brand new soda that came out that tastes a lot like Coke and is willing to distribute their soda to wherever people are.
Be careful, Instagram. No one has ever gotten rich by holding the customers’ loyalty of their heads.