Why I cordially loathe Instagram

 This image has got bugger-all to do with this post, really, but I like it, so…

This image has got bugger-all to do with this post, really, but I like it, so…

Instagram. You're expected, as a photographer, to be on the damn thing these days. And for a long while I was. I would try to post daily, to to be "intentional" with my feed — though I'm not really sure what that means, if I'm absolutely honest. And then, earlier this year, I decided to ditch my Instagram account, just like I'd ditched my Facebook account some years ago.

I am quite definitely measurably happier. Not necessarily better off, professionally — we'll come to that in a bit — but happier? Sure.

My loathing of Instagram boils down to precisely two things, when I come to examine it in the cold light of day. There are other reasons — it being owned by Facebook, for one thing, and its ridiculously puritanical attitude towards the female nipple for another —  but the point is that even if those other things were not true, the following would still lead me to shut my account down:

  1. You can't automate Instagram
  2. Looking at other folks' social media streams can be an intensely depressing experience.

The second of these is, I admit, my own weakness rather than a weakness in Instagram itself. I realised that the more I looked at Instagram — especially during the time when I wasn't making pictures but instead was off doing other things — was bringing me extraordinarily low. And yes, yes, I know: don't compare your life with other folks' highlights reels. I get that. But it was inevitable that I would do just that, and the easiest way to not do that was to turn off Instagram. Point 1.

By far and away the thing I hate most about Instagram, however, is its utter lack of automation.

Consider Twitter (but not for too long, because it's a cesspool). One of the things it did right, very early on, was to have an open API that allowed you to make posts from any manner of Twitter client. They locked it down later because they believed that the proliferation of Twitter clients was hurting their bottom line (whether locking it down actually helped or not I don't know; Twitter still gives me the impression that the senior management hasn't yet figured out what their business model actually is). Facebook too allows for automated posts.

For someone like me this makes a huge amount of sense. I like to keep control of the stuff I create. I post it in one place (evening.camera, say) and then I use IFTTT or similar to post it to Twitter and elsewhere. Back when I used Facebook, I did exactly the same thing there. But you can't do that with Instagram, because it offers no public API by which to create posts.

There are ways to sort-of automate Instagram. "But use Buffer," some will say. Well, yes. And for a while I did. Buffer is a brilliant (and monetised) solution to many of the problems faced by those with social media streams. But the trouble with using Buffer with Instagram is the workflow:

  1. Something adds the image to your buffer queue.
  2. Buffer sends you a push notification when it's time to post. If you ignore this, the photo goes into another tab in Buffer, and it's a bit more clicking to find it again to post it.
  3. You open Buffer, which copies the caption for the image into your phone's clipboard for later.
  4. Buffer opens Instagram for you. (If you have more than one account you need to make sure you're logged into the right one).
  5. You fiddle with the image in Instagram. If you just want to zoom out so that your whole image is posted rather than a square crop, you sometimes have to do some fiddling around and then cancel it and do it again.
  6. You paste the caption that Buffer put into your copy/paste clipboard and do any necessary hashtagging.
  7. You post.

I. Cannot. Be. Bothered.

I can understand some of Instagram's reasons for not having a public API for creating posts, but for people like me who want to keep control of their own stuff (let's ignore that Instagram can use your pictures for advertising, etc., yadda yadda) and who don't want to have to faff around with each and every social media app in order to be able to put stuff out in the world, it's a complete and anger-inducing waste of my time.

Instagram is great for consuming stuff. It's great for interacting with other people who've put their work on the site. But it's dreadful for actually putting your stuff out in the world in any kind of organised fashion. I guess that's because it was built for sharing stuff on-the-hop, and we're mis-purposing it a bit. But Instagram has positioned itself so that it's the place to share images if you're a visual artist of any stripe. And if you want to do that and have time to do other things, Instagram is bloody awful.

(Of course, I maintain my right to change my mind about all this at some point.)