Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why Instagram Should Not Have Added More Editing Options

FYI: this article is not about style, but it's about branding, which is related to both fashion and blogging.

new Instagram editing options

// screenshot via Android Community //

For the first time in the history of the app, at least since I've been paying attention to it, Instagram increased photo-editing functionality. A recent update added options to adjust brightness, contrast, highlights, etc. My guess is that this change was prompted by the surging popularity of VSCO Cam, which most people use to augment content intended for Instagram. However, the Visual Supply Co app does offer competition, with its hipster-friendly feed and emphasis on artistry. When I tried out VSCO Cam, I was impressed by the degree of editing control. Obviously nothing you can do on a phone is going to be like using Photoshop, but VSCO Cam begs the comparison. (For a full review, check out Macworld.) I think Instagram wants to eliminate the need for artsy people to use VSCO Cam, thus cutting them from the market. They did this by making Instagram into a kind of "vsco lite". That was stupid.

Let's review the benefits of Instagram: it offers a quick, simple way to share snapshots of your life with the world. The quickness and simplicity are key features. In fact, if I controlled the app, I would provide five filters at the most. Social media is all about speed of sharing--imagine if you had to pick a display font every time you posted on Twitter. It's true that Instagram filters are optional, but there's the feeling that you should look at the effect of each one, in order to determine the optimal presentation of your image. This adds stress to the user experience. Microblogging venues must avoid imitating long-form venues. Doing otherwise displays a drastic misunderstanding of why people use social media instead of running their own full-fledged websites. Basically, people are both lazy and busy; having a plethora of options will overwhelm them.

Another benefit of Instagram is its clique-y-ness. The application is actively hostile to anyone without a smartphone. Although there's a hack that allows you to upload images from a regular computer, using Gramblr will break your account. (I speak from personal experience.) By excluding anyone without a smartphone, Instagram creates a kind of special club. In fact, this aggressive brand position is why I was surprised that Instagram added the new features. What happened to their we-make-the-rules branding?

Of course, it's not inherently bad to change according to consumer behavior. Instagram noticed that people were using VSCO Cam, so they added similar functions. Sure, that makes sense. Until you remember the cardinal rule of marketing: differentiate or die. (Relevant: Youngme Moon's excellent treatise on the topic.) When brands become more and more similar, the product they offer turns into a commodity. Right now Instagram has millions of users and a distinct, well-known brand identity, so they continue to reign supreme. But there's no guarantee of continued dominance. Look at Facebook's current descent into deplorability. (Ironic, consider who owns who in this situation...)

To sum up: Instagram may be giving consumers what they think they want, but by doing so they have increased the stress involved in using their app AND diluted their brand.

Thoughts? I'm open to dissenting opinions.


  1. Interesting post. But if the filters are optional I don't think it really dilutes the brand. Personally I never use filters, so I've never even noticed (or been bothered by) such additions in my own Instagram use. And for the people who want more control over how the images in their feed appear ... well, it's a nice extra I guess. I don't think Instagram is really a competitor to VSCO Cam as it is because the focus of Instagram has never really been aesthetics, but I will say this—Instagram NEEDS to introduce some sort of official web-based or computer software application with full functionality if they want to survive. Even some smartphone users are excluded: I own a Blackberry and have to use a third party Instagram application to post from it. Not exactly quick and convenient.

    1. Hmm. Thanks for chiming in. And I didn't know that about Blackberries--sounds annoying!


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