On Instagram and History

So, this is very meta, be warned. Paul (@ppedrazzi) posted this quote from Instagram’s developer site.

I assume that’s the source, but I can’t verify without authenticating.

We believe that the Instagram community is building a rich visual history of the world.

So, if you’re familiar with Instagram, that’s obviously false and not a little presumptuous.

For the uninitiated, Instagram is an iPhone app that applies filters to your photos to make them appear vintage, a la old Polaroid instants. It’s a lot like the I Am T-Pain app, for your pictures, a lark.

I’m reminded of this rant, “Why I really, really hate Instagram” which is worth the read, especially if you’re a fan of the app. The nascent point is that smartphone cameras are already bad, so applying a filter just makes them worse.

There’s also a design point wrapped up in there, namely that the app’s default setting does not save the original image, which obviously leaves you with no unmodified version of the photo.

As noted in the comments, changing this setting is easy, but still, it speaks to Instagram’s world view, as does the above quote.

To that point, what happens to the original picture’s EXIF data? Despite the smartphone’s low specs and poor images, one bonus is that the phone can apply metadata to the picture, e.g. location, camera used, resolution, etc.

Theoretically, what you lose in image quality can be gained in other metadata. Flickr uses EXIF to track data about its community.

It looks like Instagram strips at least some, possibly all, EXIF data off its images, which is a real bummer if you’re not saving the original image.

So, yeah, Instagram is a lark, but I wonder if its growing community understands that they’re potentially destroying a lot of their actual, personal history in the process of retrofying their pictures.

Anyway, food for thought. I know a lot of you take photography seriously, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Instagram.




  1. Well, yeah; those are exactly the two reasons I don’t use Instagram. Also, the filters are cute, but it reminds me of when everyone first got Photoshop and would just put filters on images without even changing the default settings. They are way overused and seem somewhat cheesy to me.

  2. As Instagram grows beyond our set, this problem will compound. Haven’t used the app (no iPhone), but I wonder if this is a problem of too-easy-to-use design. Or maybe the default is purposefully set.

    Interesting, I prefer the single source approach for photos, but that may change. Your point about multiple copies is valid, esp given some of the hiccups Tumblr and Flickr have had recently. Still, each site has different terms, and policies. I guess you don’t care about licensing either 😉

    When did everything get so complicated?

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