As the nation loses its mind over the controversy that is Instagram's new terms of service (Instagate?) it occurred to me to think about why the hell we use Instagram in the first place. The furor over its new policies must have its emotional root in the fact that we use it to such an extent that these changes will affect our lives in some way — we're invested in the service personally. So, why?
My only frame of reference is my own usage (I guess I could, like, ask other people, but that'd mean interacting with other humans). For me, Instagram is a central location from which I share photos, and that's about it. I don't even take pictures in the app, but use existing photos (and since I have two unbearably adorable kids, that's a lot of photos) and then add them into the Instagram interface. I don't even use the filters all that often, but rather simply use Instagram as the simplest way to take a cute or amusing image, and then send it to the social networks in one shot.
I do sometimes browse the photo feeds of the folks I follow on Instagram within the app, but that's peripheral. And since so many goddamn many of you post pictures of either a) your food and beverages or b) your pets, I am actually loathe to browse that feed most of the time. (Seriously everybody, find something else to take a picture of.)
Okay, so all the sparkly stuff about Instagram I don't use. I don't even really use it as a “social network,” which, in and of itself it's supposed to be. For me, it's a vehicle to pushing photos to other services.
This of course begs the question: Do I even need Instagram to do this? iOS is now integrated with Facebook and Twitter, so I can always just send the photos that way, but it wouldn't be in one shot — it'd be one service at a time. It's a few extra taps, no big deal really, but it lacks the swiftness and, frankly, thoughtlessness that Instagram allows.
The new Flickr app, lauded across the tech media, will send pics to these networks simultaneously (note that none of these push to Google+, chortle). It even has the damn filters, plus having the trappings of a social network, so one can browse friends' photos. It's not penetrated as far as Instagram has, so there aren't as many super-casual users, but that may actually be a plus, considering the pictures of food and dogs on Instagram.
I'll add one more thing I like about Instagram: forcing all pictures into a square. For some reason, even though it adds a layer of work for the user (deciding what portion of your non-square picture will fit inside the frame), it manages to give the impression of simplicity, as the final product will always come out the other end in the same box, as it were. I'm not at all sure that this matters, but it feels like one of those it's-a-feature-not-a-bug things.
I may not be the typical Instagram user. Perhaps many more folks are taking advantage of the social network aspects. Maybe the filters are where it's at for most users. I don't know.
But as I lay this all out, and I consider even the most charitable explanations of what Instagram is now up to, it does seem like a pretty clear, and frankly painless choice to just stop using the damn thing. I have professional and familial ties that for all intents and purposes forbid me from abandoning Facebook, and Twitter is something I simply enjoy too much and get too much utility out of to leave (until maybe something like App.net reaches critical mass), regardless of what I may think of how they've been behaving.
But Instagram? Yeah, it may be too redundant to be worth it, even at its most benign.