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This article was published on June 27, 2013

Instagram messenger

Instagram messenger
Matthew Panzarino
Story by

Matthew Panzarino

Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter. Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter.

As Instagram reaches for the next plateau of user adoption, it’s undergoing a transformation from a curated photography platform into a public and private visual messaging service. This was demonstrated handily by its introduction of video last week in an effort to triage the effect that apps like Vine and Snapchat are having on its new endeavor.

Instagram began as a way to share photographs quickly and beautifully based around a particular location or event. As the early adopters took control, it began to take on the characteristics of a curated photography community. Power users with beautiful feeds of photographs dominated the user counts, followed by the news hounds posting images of breaking stories and then celebrities racking up massive counts with the selfie sauce.

But the next entrants into the Instagram universe were the most important. These were the teens who use it as a messaging platform, wantonly, with no regard whatsoever for ‘memories’ or ‘photographic integrity’ or even keeping their images for that matter. They post messages as text on a square page or photo, they post screenshots, they post anything and everything BUT photographs as they use the service to communicate with their groups of friends.


Some teens actually delete their streams, keeping only a few images or none at all to avoid Instagram ‘owning’ their stuff. They were, in fact, hacking Instagram to be just as ephemeral as the much touted Snapchat. And they were doing it all in the confines of what was ostensibly a sacred repository of cherished moments.

To illustrate, here is my feed:

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 5.18.36 PM

And here is a completely random feed I came across while surfing hashtags:

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 5.17.29 PM

Instagram has no need to be Vine (or even Facebook), though its new video feature really couldn’t be much more similar. In fact, ‘Instagram vs. Vine’ is a silly debate, as it’s the strengths of their respective networks that will determine their success, not which one has a better ‘video camera’.

What it does need is to be the messaging platform for its next several hundred million users, and that’s where video support and increased hashtag leverage comes in. Media content and hashtags are where the data is, that’s where the advertising opportunities are, and that’s where the necessary tween users are. Instagram videos are, as it‘s been pointed out, just about the right length for commercials.

Unfortunately for me, this is exactly the opposite of the way that I use Instagram. I like to curate moments of fantasy to share with my friends and those who choose to follow me. They’re bits and bobbles of my life that I find interesting enough to capture carefully and share sparingly. I don’t share there because of the filters — only one in ten of my photos now use filters — I do it because all of my friends are there to like them and my mom subscribes on Flipboard. And when I browse through my feed, it’s typically enjoyable, beautiful and inspiring.

Now, with video support, I’m forced to watch people who are much better photographers than videographers share poorly composed clips. And even when I toggle the noise off, my feed is still full of blurry, grainy thumbnails that pollute my otherwise gorgeous stream of images. There are a couple of conciliatory measures that could be taken, like allowing users to filter out video content entirely, letting posters choose a photograph as their video cover or adding a separate tab for just videos. But I don’t think any of those are very likely.

I think that a wonderful compromise would have been a recording feature that produced gifs instead of videos. I can even imagine Instagram founder Kevin Systrom walking out on stage to announce it.

“We could have done video but we wanted to do something uniquely Instagram. You call them gifs,” he says, “we call them Moving Photos. We’ve got 13 new gif filters too, including Scorsese, Muybridge, Spielberg,  Jeunet and Fellini.”

A gif adds the motion necessary to expand the Instagram formula outwards without losing its nostalgic patina. Alas, that particular addition to Instagram’s network is not to be, as it heads off into the marker felt, emoji-heavy and screenshot-filled tween sunset.

Image Credit: Noah R.

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