Instagram is a status app not a social app

Instagram rolled out a product update this week that positions the photo app more in-line with the likes of Snapchat and mobile messaging services like Whatsapp by allowing users to send private images and videos to select groups of friends. But did it really need to? 

Lara O'Reilly

Instagram has long been the darling of hipsters and not-so-hip amateur photographers who, with the swish of a filter, turn photos of their train journeys, cups of tea and gerbils into mini masterpieces.

It’s an app that can make almost anybody’s life look desirable. Even Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s founder, explained at Instagram Direct’s launch event that an Instagram photo of someone’s brunch isn’t just a picture of some food. It tells the world where that person is, who that person is with and what they are doing.

Instagram feeds its users’ natural narcissism. It allows them to portray themselves as successful, well-travelled, well-fed and happy – even if under the surface they’re insecure and penniless.

In short: Instagram is a status app, not a social app. It doesn’t need to stretch the boundaries of social beyond its version of a like button and the ability for users to comment on each others’ posts – functions it did not really expand on until 2012 when it was acquired by Facebook for $1bn (£630m).

Since then Facebook has gone about moulding Instagram into its sibling – albeit a younger and cooler one. Facebook-like photo tagging, Facebook-like web profiles and Facebook-like advertising soon followed.

This week was the turn for Facebook-like messaging. But it’s a road well travelled. Since the dawn of BlackBerry Messenger, over-the-top mobile messaging services have soared in popularity: Whatsapp has more than 350 million active users and China’s WeChat claims more than 600 million. Even Facebook’s own messaging service follows its users around the site, letting users know which of their friends online – and it was one of the social network’s earliest features.

In attempting to be all things to all people by introducing a private messaging function – functionality that has existed elsewhere for years and years – Instagram is shedding its individuality. And all those people who use Instagram to share their own apparent individuality won’t accept a vanilla filter.

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