When I joined Instagram in 2011, a year after it launched, I was interested in the platform’s simple approach: users sharing photos. You can add a filter to make the photo look a bit better, geotag the location, and tag a friend or two. But that was basically it.
Now Instagram has an identity crisis – again. And I’m losing empathy for it.
When I signed up, Instagram had just over 15 million users worldwide; the platform was adding 1 million new users every two weeks. This was unprecedented growth for a social media platform, launched by a virtual person in the tech world.
Stanford grad and Google alum Kevin Systrom, along with Mike Krieger, developed Burbn, an app named after Kentucky whiskey and Instagram’s predecessor. He said, in a 2014 interview with Forbes, that he got the idea for a photo-sharing app because he grew up with cameras and always took pictures. The very first image shared on Instagram was Systrom’s photo of a stray dog sitting near a taco stand in Mexico.
“We’ve worked really hard to make it really easy for people to share their lives in a beautiful way,” he said, adding towards the end, “You haven’t seen the exhaustion of social networks… We have a lot of growth to do… This is the tip of the iceberg.
Instagram has changed a lot since this interview. The app’s famous square-shaped photo format has expanded to include more flattering landscape and portrait options. The company introduced other features, including Stories in 2017, its answer to the then-popular SnapChat, and Shops in 2019, a virtual storefront for businesses.
The video had long eluded the social media platform. YouTube had more monthly active users (still) and TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app that became available to US users in 2017, was the big news (still).
Instagram was going the way of Meta-owned Facebook – that’s where mom and dad used to hang out. (Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012.)
So what has Instagram done? He reacted, as he always does. Like my 5 year old son.
It launched IGTV – a video platform – in 2018 to compete with YouTube, and in 2020 it launched Reels, a way for users to share the genre of short (and often boring) videos popular on TikTok.
You know, stuff like how to make a one-pot egg sandwich using origami magic.
That’s not why I downloaded the Instagram app.
I want to see photos, beautiful pictures, pictures of adorable dogs and beautiful landscapes. Things I want to dream about: a languid vacation, epic surfing, my childless friends having a cocktail at 5 p.m. on a school night. I don’t want to scroll through videos of people lip-syncing to Celine Dion or trying to twerk. I don’t want to hear anything when I open the Instagram app — not Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” or that weird automated text-to-speech voice narrating videos. I can’t.
Apparently I’m not alone.
Just this week, celebrities and IG mega-influencers Kylie Jenner (361 million subscribers) and Chrissy Teigen (38.6 million subscribers) slammed the platform for shifting its focus to videos to compete with TikTok. Jenner shared a post on her IG Stories on Monday that read “Make Instagram Instagram again. (Stop trying to be tiktok, I just want to see cute pics of my friends.) Sincerely, everyone. (A petition on Change.org with this goal had more than 228,000 signatures as of Wednesday.)
It’s not every day that I agree with a Kardashian.
Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, replied on Twitter (not Instagram) Tuesday that the world is changing and Instagram must change with it. This includes supporting more video content and flooding your feed with what it calls “recommendations,” basically accounts you don’t follow, in an effort to help creators you don’t know. not to increase their reach, while reducing the content of the people you actually follow.
Mosseri admitted that these are common complaints – and the two features aren’t going away any time soon.
“I have to be honest,” he said in the video, addressing concerns about Instagram’s noticeable shift to videos, “I believe more and more of Instagram is going to go video over time.”
I hope Mosseri read his answers.
“I don’t want to watch videos on Instagram, period. I don’t want to make videos. All I want is to scroll through pleasing photos.
“Leave Instagram as it was. If I wanted to make or watch videos, I would go to TikTok.
Even Teigen chimed in: “we don’t want to do Adam videos lol.”
And yet, here I am, browsing IG and seeing articles about a Hydroflask I already own and sea glass jewelry I would never buy. (Also, suddenly my feed is full of penguin videos, which I don’t hate, but still.)
If you want your content to be seen on Instagram, you need to post videos, period. And if you want to see photos from your friend’s recent wedding or new baby or Tuesday night dinner, keep scrolling. Past penguins, stick twirlers, homesteaders, and dozens of other accounts you don’t follow.
Or you can do what I do: turn off the app, go for a walk, text photos of my kid to my mom, log in without Instagram.
Then head over to TikTok and learn how to make pesto eggs.