I was meaning to add my bit to this post from Cole Camplese, and now I see he has even name-checked me in the comments… Cole essentially asks if it is worth it to continue on with Flickr at the paid “Pro” level. I’ll leave that question aside, and ask one of my own.
Can anyone explain why they like Instagram? I’m not even getting into its absurd billion dollar valuation. I’m asking strictly about its utility as an online photo sharing tool. Those filters? Seems to me they function as a fun one-time gimmick, that over time actually drain the images people take of any sense of spirit or originality.
But what really drives me nuts is how the “service” isolates its media (and make no mistake, it is Instagram’s media) from us. For instance, I know Bryan Jackson has posted some great photos on Instagram over the past year of some fun jam sessions. Damned if I can find them now.
I can get to a pop-up window that brings up Mara’s username, and info that tells me she has taken 219 photos. But that username is just flat text (not linked to an account home page), and that photo number doesn’t link to anything else either. Note that I am logged in to my Instagram account (who knew that I had one?), and have become a “follower” of Mara’s account. (Need I add that the number of followers on the pop-up window is flat text as well?) The URL is an indecipherable and apparently random string of text. So this image lives in a deliberately constructed silo. It’s no accident those links don’t exist, that was a conscious decision on the part of Instagram.
For all of the missteps that Yahoo! has made since acquiring Flickr, that service embodies many principles from what I now think of as the bygone happy-hippie era of Web 2.0. All Flickr images are collected into user collections, and users have a great deal of control over what can be done with those images. URLs are clean, and follow a standard and predictable path. My images tagged with “paul lake” can all be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/harry/tags/paullake/ Photos from all users on Flickr tagged with “paul lake” can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/paullake/. Those clean and predictable URLs all generate RSS feeds, of course. And it is trivially easy to select, manage and republish dynamic image flows on just about any keyword or place.
Wow. Having a little nostalgia rush here… Tagging. RSS. Embedding. Open APIs. The web as platform. DIY. I need to sit down… Isn’t it amazing how much “old” functionality the “new wave” of apps hasn’t bothered to support? And amazing how most professional technologists haven’t seemed to notice nor to care.
As Cole notes in his post, Flickr has probably done as much as any privately-owned company to model a reasonable and responsible approach to supporting a commons-based vision of shared imagery. As Josh Wallaert argues:
For most of the last decade, the greatest repository of freely available images has been Flickr, a privately-owned public space that hosts more than 240 million creative commons images, dwarfing the 14 million items in the Prints & Photographs Division of the U.S. Library of Congress. Pick any Wikipedia article at random; if it has an image, there’s a good chance it comes from Flickr.
But Flickr has become a ghost town in recent years, conservatively managed by its corporate parent Yahoo, which has ceded ground to photo-sharing alternatives like Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram), Google Plus (and Picasa and Panoramio), and Twitter services (TwitPic and Yfrog). An increasing share of the Internet’s visual resources are now locked away in private cabinets, untagged and unsearchable, shared with a public no wider than the photographer’s personal sphere. Google’s Picasa and Panoramio support creative commons licenses, but finding the settings is not easy. And Facebook, the most social place to share photos, is the least public. Hundreds of millions of people who have photographed culturally significant events, people, buildings and landscapes, and who would happily give their work to the commons if they were prompted, are locked into sites that don’t even provide the option. The Internet (and the mobile appverse) is becoming a chain of walled gardens that trap even the most civic-minded person behind the hedges, with no view of the outside world.
From what I can see, the only actual advantage Instagram had over Flickr was the ability to instantly post from a mobile device to the web, to Twitter, to Facebook… Flickr has finally addressed that with its new iPhone app. I’ve only poked at it, but my initial impression is that the app works quite well. It even supports a range of filter effects that I will undoubtedly be sick of seeing in a few months. Most people in my bubble seem to be impressed, though I am also seeing reactions like this one:
If Flickr was a fresh start-up and had just launched an app that “kicks Instagram’s ass”, it would be the new hotness. But I guess I’m not cut out to be a social media industry guru.
Now if you’ll excuse me, those damned kids are running around on my lawn again.