You hear that? It’s the sound of 130 million people closing the Instagram app.
More than any other social network, Instagram is a consumptive experience first and foremost, even though it might have tricked you into thinking it’s all about taking pictures.
Instagram has never shared concrete stats on creation vs. consumption habits of its users, but the latest stats do shed some light on the behavior of the Instagram nation. There are a total of 6 billion photos on the service. This is a huge number, given the fact that Instagram has only been around for a little over 3 years.
But there are 130 million monthly active users on the network. Clearly, some of these users share hundreds and thousands of pictures while others share dozens. For the sake of this riddle we’re solving, let’s pretend they create an equal amount. That’s an average of 46 photos per user.
However, Instagram announced that there are over 1 billion likes on the service every single day. Per user, that comes out to around 230 likes per month.
Obviously, each user is different. Some post thousands of photos, while others have a measly 12. Some joined two years ago, and some just hopped on the Instagram band wagon. Some users like every photo they see, and others are stingy with their likes. But on the whole, it’s clear that users like/consume photos more than they post them.
This goes to show that consumption — the act of flipping through that photo stream, liking at your leisure — is a crucial part of the Instagram experience. It is precious. It works like a charm in those spare moments of the day. And it’s just been fucked with.
In the past three years, Instagram never figured out video, and the feature remained unlaunched despite conversations about it at the company.
When Instagram launched, the idea was to take the shitty photos your shitty mobile camera had captured and share them in a beautiful way. It was a huge success. Now, we’re much better at taking photos with our phones, and our cameras are way better than they used to be. But video is the new frontier.
Instagram wants to get in on the market while it’s hot, with the same formula it used for photos — capture something of low-quality, make it pretty and stabilized, and share it easily. Yay!
But Instagram isn’t dominant because of its creative properties. There are dozens of photo-sharing apps with filters and cool stamps, but none of them have 130 million users. None of them are filled with all of your friends’ photos. You can create in Camera+ or Line, but can you consume within those apps with the same pleasure as Instagram? Probably not.
Unfortunately, the addition of video to the Instagram stream takes from that pleasure for a number of reasons.
A few of them are solvable problems — bugs, really. When you have poor service and you hover over an Instagram video (I’d like to call them Vinstagrams, if everyone’s ok with that), chances are you move on down the stream if that video takes too long to load. However, once that Vinstagram does load, it starts playing audio and all no matter where you are in the stream (though you can disable auto-play in the setting).
But even if that doesn’t happen, there’s still a bandwidth issue. Yes, plenty of us are enjoying LTE speeds on our Android and iOS-powered devices, but some of us are not. Even still, some of us may find ourselves on a dragging Wifi network. There’s no guarantee of strong service at any given time.
Instagram never had much trouble with this when it was just doing photos.
Unless you had zero bars, or no Wifi, you could enjoy a stream of your friends’ photos. Maybe you couldn’t quite upload your own post, but you could still get the small satisfaction that comes with handing out likes.
Instagram Video slows down the consumption. There have been a number of times already, even with my LTE iPhone 5, that I couldn’t load videos fast enough in Instagram. I didn’t move to another area to get service, or switch to Wifi. I closed the app.
Instagram was made to be easy. Easy creation and easy consumption. Vinstagrams make things difficult.
But it stretches far beyond poor connectivity into the land of content. Not every Instagram pic is beautiful, or interesting, or a profound work of art. But most of them are pretty easy on the eyes, thanks to filters and other editing tools baked into the app.
Luckily for all of us, it’s relatively easy to take a good picture. It’s a single frame, a solitary moment in time that you have to capture. If the first one’s not so hot, you take a few more. You just need a single, beautiful frame.
With video, users have a full fifteen seconds to fill with beauty, if they so choose. But it’s not as easy as it seems. Even with Instagram’s “Cinema” technology, which is meant to stabilize the video, and 13 beautiful filters, it’s really easy to take a bad video.
Then let’s factor in the fact that Instagrammers are notoriously bad at capturing things people actually care about seeing. Instagram is filled with pictures your dinner, your coffee, your beer, your pet, the view our of your airplane window, and/or your feet, among other things. When it’s a single image of a pigeon on the street, it’s easy for me to scroll by. But, as a consumer, the little video icon makes me want to wait, and see what this Vinstagram has to offer.
It’s almost never worth it.
People are jacked up about Instavids right now (I’m still deciding on which name should stick), so it makes sense that they’d be uninteresting right now. I’m guilty too. In testing out the new feature, I took two very awful Instagram videos that I now regret. I apologize.
Perhaps people will get more stingy, or learn how to shoot a compelling video. Perhaps Instagram will be the same app it has always been, a place to look at people’s food.
But even if it gets better, there are more issues that make me think twice every time I go to click on that Instagram app: the very simple issue of time.
Instagram is a time sink. It’s the app I go to every time I have a few spare minutes of boredom in my world — waiting for a table at a restaurant, sitting on the toilet, chilling on a smoke break. But when you combine slow loading videos and downright long videos — it may not seem like it, but 15 seconds is a really long time compared to the half second it takes to glance at a photo — Instagram consumption is no longer feeling like a “break time” app.
It’s now an investment of my time.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for Instagram video. Twitter’s Vine is taking off like a rocket, and Facebook seems to feel a need to dominate every corner of the social space. That now includes video, so I absolutely understand why this feature was launched, whether it follows Vine or was conceived of long before.
However, there’s a reason that Instagram has 130 million active users. If it ain’t broke, right? Changing the experience is risky, but there are ways to fix it.
I, personally, am calling for filtered photo streams. Let me choose whether or not I want to look at pictures, Vinstagrams, or both. There are plenty of aggregating apps like Divvy that let you toggle between certain streams or feeds, and there’s no reason why the same tactic can’t be used within Instagram.
Until then, I’ll be spending less time browsing through Instagram, so don’t feel offended if you’re getting fewer likes from me.