- November
Posted By : Adrian Chan
Instagram: the object of sharing & the shared object

I’ve been taking care of other things, as they say, and off the blogmobile for a while awaiting inspiration and a muse. Neither has made any great arrival, so I opt now for Plan B — which is to simply start writing.

Instagram is easily the app I use most frequently now, and with the greatest amount of pleasure. I think, for the obvious reason that it’s pictorial. There’s simply no end to the surprising things you see on instagram. Flickr I am sure offers a similar experience — but I wasn’t ever a very social flickr user.

Instagram may be a photo sharing service, and immensely popular with iphone users. But it’s not all just about pictures. Pictures are objects of a sort that we look at and occasionally react to. They’re objects that have content: their image. Most are recognizable for what they are, or for what they depict.

What makes a service like Instagram interesting, however, is not just that they excel at socializing a basic
experience (and this instagram does, in its design simplicity and ease of sharing). What makes instagram interesting is how creatively cultures and subcultures develop around the object of sharing, and the shared object, to bring it to life and to transcend the product’s generic functionalities. In other words, instagram has produced user cultures whose practices add a very specific kind of value: communication.

Users on instagram do more with their pictures than just take them. They do more with their pictures than just share them. They tag them. They tag their pictures. They picture their tags. They like each other’s pictures, sometimes just to like each other. They comment and name call, both what they are doing and who they follow/like/know etc. And all of this with a remarkably compressed system for communicating.

Enable a social object with sharing, and forms of communication will transform and recontextualize the object by means of sharing cultures and practices. Users interested in yellow or green. Black and whites posted on Wednesday. Cars. Mealtimes. Happy hour drinks. Apps like hipstamatic and even names of lenses and editing apps.

In this way instagram can almost be like a visual twitter. Images are like tweets, distinguished by their likes, tags, comments, and emoji iconography. Instead of tweeting, users share pictures — content then is images not words. Looking replaces the act of reading. And liking, like retweeting, may be an endorsement of the expression’s content or may be a social gesture (directed at the user,

The paradox in this is that it is not the quality of the image or content of the object that gives rise to sharing, although this is sometimes the case. Popularity and activity of users seems a more likely cause of a picture’s popularity. This is the principle at work elsewhere in media, wherein attention accrues to the communication of those with the most subscribers, regardless of their “interestingness.”

Images as communication. Instagram really is a lot like twitter. But hey if a picture’s worth a thousand words, how many characters is that?


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