The thing I really can’t get over:

  1. The photo filters are too homogeneous. It’s true that the cameras on phones only perform well in certain conditions and that filters are probably the most easily accessible crutch. But there’s something really odd about having a small selection of filters. On other services, users can aspirationally represent themselves in many ways—curation of taste and fact, images.

To requote Chuck Close

“Now, having said that, I think while photography is the easiest medium in which to be competent, it is probably the hardest one in which to develop an idiosyncratic personal vision. It’s the hardest medium in which to separate yourself from all those other people who are doing reasonably good stuff and to find a personal voice, your own vision, and to make something that is truly, memorably yours and not someone else’s.” Instagram really brings out the sameness in the images, which is strange because you’re looking at moments captured by many different people—you would hope that a service based around photos would be more individual than templated bits of text. It will be interesting to see if this ever becomes a problem for Instagram (or maybe phone cameras get better too quickly)—but maybe people will continue to be smitten with the 70s aesthetic.

It’s also possible that it takes a while to understand the signal. When I first started using Twitter, it took a while for me to be able to piece together themes, narratives, and feel for the various people that I followed—at first it was a lot of noise.

It makes me think of the fact that when using a new service, the way we read and translate content around that service becomes refined - that is, the culture we have surrounding the tool increases. I think of, for example, telling my friend how annoying it was to have to log into Facebook to publicly congratulate one of my friends on getting engaged (I hate Facebook that much, not the congratulating part), even though we’d already had a conversation via text message. Or, the way in which five tweets about a subject emotionally conveys something very different than one or two. Or, the way a quote or photo on Tumblr speaks to the ephemeral moods of the particular day someone posts it. The actions we take within the service can be imbued with meaning. Which makes me wonder if having too many “actions” (say, having 20 Instagram filters leading to a variety of potential “actions”) would make it harder to understand and build culture around that service. As a side note, perhaps that’s why we see “patterns” of Tumblr posting - it easily and quickly communicates in a shorthand Tumblr users have developed themselves.

I don’t use Instagram myself, so I’m not really able to comment on the particulars of that service.