Instagram Rocks, Almost

Instagram snagged over 100,000 users in its first week in the iTunes App Store, so there are plenty of you out there who’d be happy to leave the “almost” off of the headline above. When I first installed it a few weeks ago, my first thought was “I already share photos on Flickr. What do I need this for?” My mate Lachlan Hardy and I had a long chat about it and agreed throughout, but I’ve got to say my attitude’s changed after a recent 42 day trip through 14 cities in Europe.

If you’ve never heard of Instagram (you can skip this paragraph if you have) it’s an iPhone app that allows you to make a photo, crop it to a square format – which makes sense considering the screen you view the photos on – apply one of eleven filters to it – to give it the look of a 70’s Polaroid for example – and post it to the ‘net with a location and a comment. You can find and follow other Instagram users, and what they post, you see, and your followers see your posts. You can also choose to simultaneously post your photos to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and send your location to Foursquare to check in.

At first I snapped a little and looked through my feed occasionally, but on my recent trip I really started to get into Instagram. Taking me back to my Polaroidiary days, I started shooting whatever I was experiencing wherever I was and sharing it with friends. In the spirit of “the best camera is the one that’s with you” (can anyone give me the original source of that quote?) through Instagram I learned to appreciate my iPhone’s camera and really enjoy making photos with it, and found it especially suited, due to it’s inconspicuousness, to making candid shots of the people around me. Instagram is shoot from the hip and share, and contrary to my first opinion, I found it a great way to easily share snapshots, with the option of posting the best of them to Flickr as desired. Instagram’s interface makes it quick and easy to do what it’s there for and I’ve really had fun with it.

There’s just one grain of sand in the Instagram ointment.

The small irritant is that Instagram pays at best lip service to the web as we usually see it, i.e. in a browser (but hopefully not IE). If you choose to post a photo to Twitter, it creates a short link, like this: http://instagr.am/p/e7NZ/. The page shown completely omits the location and comment of the photo, and there’s nothing else – no way to see any other photos, the photographer’s profile or followers – nothing but the photo. And, if you neglect to post your photos to Twitter, there’s no way at all to get a link to your photo after the fact – it can only be viewed in the Instagram app itself. My web sharing & grazing take place on at least 3 platforms depending on context, and I like to have a link for every bit of data I’m putting out there, to use when and as I see fit. This post is a perfect example: I can only share photos here that I either posted to Flickr or Twitter. I can’t link to all photos from a certain day or place, for example, nor can I send you to my Instagram page to see all of my photos.

Going on the principle of focussing on the essence, I can understand Instagram’s decision – it’s a mobile app, and the shooting, sharing & viewing are intended to happen on a mobile device, and that all works fine. I can understand it, but I’m a little irritated all the same. To be fair, it could also be a “core first” decision, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they beefed up the web view in the future. Any Instagrammies out there got any inside goss on this?

Side note: when I was made aware of the Instagram Terms of Service, which gave Instagram and other users the right to use your photos as they see fit, I was ready to drop the app completely. To their credit Instagram reacted quickly and corrected what was apparently a bit of a copy & paste error. Kudos to the Instagram team. You can see the updated ToS here.

Update: the Instagram guys let me know that you can grab the link to a photo by tapping the … button on the right under any photo you’re looking at.