In the beginning, Instagram was the coolest mobile app on the block. With its limited but thoughtful feature set, it was poised to become a new, better Flickr without even trying.
But then Instagram went overboard, adding tons of unnecessary and frankly annoying features, while failing to effectively address the platform’s (and its users’) real problems.
- Boomerang? It was cool for about ten minutes, and now it is arguably the most overused gimmick seen on the web since the drop-shadow.
- Stories? I don’t see the value in having photos and videos disappear after 24 hours. If you’re going to go through the effort of making a public posting, do it thoughtfully, stand behind it, and put it in your feed. I also don’t see the value in having full-screen photos and videos that are cluttered with overlaid stickers, text fields, and user-interface buttons. This seems like a “feature” that would be better suited for private messages.
- Silly face filters and inane fucking stickers? Fun for the thirteen-year-old segment of Instagram’s target audience, but not for us adults who are here for the art.
- High-motion, high-frequency ads? What is this, 1999? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-advertising. I want Instagram to be able to sustain itself, and in fact, I have seen a few ads that were valuable to me. But seeing upwards of five ads per viewing session, some of which feature flying text, anthropomorphized llamas, and so forth… that’s for the birds. It’s like going out for a walk in the woods seeking some uplift, and instead being distracted by the sounds of chainsaws or fighter airplanes.
- Overposters? One thing that is nice about Facebook (Instagram’s parent platform) is that you can tune what you see and what you don’t see, so that you can be friends with someone, but not have to see the twelfth photo of their newborn for the day, or repeated screenshots of whatever they are listening to in Apple Music or postings from other social sharing platforms. Instagram just shows it all, whether you want to see it or not, and your only recourse is to unfollow the frequent offenders (who may be valued real-life friends and family members that you want to stay connected to). I give Instagram credit for trying to solve this problem by creating the “multiple photos per post” feature. But many of the frequent offenders don’t use it, either because it is unintuitive, or because the rest of the app is too littered with complicated features. The average IG addict just wants to get in there, get their dopamine fix, and get out, with a minimum of friction.
- Who liked my post? Who followed me? Who commented on my stuff? A recent update to the app destroyed what used to be a straightforward and useful reporting feature. Now, when I click on the ♥ icon, I can’t tell who did what, when. There’s no longer any apparent organization or hierarchy to that information.
So how does Instagram in the browser* solve these problems?
- In the mobile app, Boomerang videos play automatically. In the browser, I see a static image with a “play” button, so I can decide whether or not I want to see that stupid fucking Boomerang video clip (which seems to be pretty much every video you see on Instagram these days). Is short filmmaking a dying art form?
- No Stories when you visit Instagram in the browser!
- No Stories means no silly face filters and inane fucking stickers!
- No ads! And if there were ads (which I would be fine with if they were moderated and done with class), they wouldn’t be auto-playing, user-hostile animated GIF-style cheese. Or if they were, I would block that shit.
- Overposters… It’s a little more complicated here. While I can’t “tune” my feed, I can bookmark the feed pages of Instagrammers whose posts I don’t want to miss. When I log in for a viewing session, instead of heading for the main feed firehose, I simply visit those bookmarks.
- Who liked my post, and when? When I click on the ♥ icon in the browser, I see a straightforward, reverse-chronological listing of my account activity, just like it used to be. And it’s easier to spot and report those scantily-clad Russian sex spammer accounts that Instagram can’t seem to shut down fast enough.
I can’t post photos and videos of my own from the browser-based Instagram, but that’s a small concession. I don’t mind firing up the mobile app for that specific purpose.
Hopefully Instagram will turn itself around and start to improve its mobile app rather than continuing to turn it into an even worse train wreck of a user interface. Bring back the Gotham filter, build features that encourage people to post artfully, and return it to some of its previous glory.
*I say “browser,” but I’ve actually made a special Instagram desktop app using the Fluid App for Mac. This allows me to create an “instance” of a web browser with its own separate set of bookmarks, cookie storage (enhances privacy), and icon in my dock.