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Having Fun With Instagram

I have been playing around with Instagram in recent weeks and figure I may as well share some of my thoughts and discoveries.

Instagram, as just about everyone knows, is the popular photo-sharing application Facebook acquired for a cool $747 million back in August 2012. The mobile-only service eclipsed 80 million users in July 2012. Instagram neatly captures the Silicon Valley zeitgeist; it’s a hip consumer service with no business model, zero revenue, and an incredible exit.

I use Instagram for several reasons: to learn from the UI, to explore the limits and possibilities of its burgeoning social network, and to share photos with little effort.

I am an amateur photographer; I shoot for fun, not for money. My weapon of choice (or budget) is the Nikon D300. I use Adobe Lightroom for extensive post-processing to give my work the feeling of “magic realism”. My workflow is optimized but still quite time-consuming. Most of the time I enjoy it but I will admit that there are times when it starts to feel like work instead of play.

When I have camera fatigue it is nice to turn to something like Instagram. Make no mistake: Instagram is just a toy. I would never use it in a professional capacity. Still, it brings me closer to the moment. It offers an immediacy that cannot be obtained with a DSLR. There is something carefree and joyous about snapping a photo, applying a quick filter, and launching it into the world. Instagram is a poor man’s Lightroom—but I like it anyway.

At first I had no idea what to do with Instagram apart from follow a few friends and share photos. Then I discovered hash tags, the crack cocaine of Instagram attention whoredom. Comment on your own photos with a bunch of popular hash tags and the rampaging hordes will descend. I suspect the vast majority of the people who like your work mere milliseconds after a photo has been tagged aren’t exactly evaluating your work on the basis of artistic merit… but hey, who cares, right? More likes!

Instagram’s popularity has spawned a lively ecosystem swarming with startups, mashups, and web services. Most of these seem fairly useless to me; only Statigram, an analytics package, really jumps out. Sign up, wait awhile, and scope out the statistics tab. You will find out the best time of day to post, what hash tags generate the most traffic, who follows/unfollows you, and other interesting trivia. This sort of thing might be important for anyone planning to raise brand awareness (although there may be better tools out there) but that’s about it. Similarly, you can read all about how to improve your profile and generate more interest—but is there much of a point? If you’re just having fun with Instagram, as I am, you may as well take it easy and not worry about all the extras.

Instagram is an amusing way to fill time; a pleasant diversion, if you will. The story of Instagram’s ascendency is as interesting as the product. The hype, the big exit, the raw numbers—all impressive. But let’s not kid ourselves here; this is not a life-changing service that anyone won’t be able to do without. Not yet, anyway. Let’s wait and see where Facebook takes it.

Follow me on Instagram before they plaster it with ads; I’m synapticx.