“You, Me and Instagram – A brief look into user interaction with Instagram’s visual interface”
In 2021, when we think of social media, we think of ten square images in an appropriate sequence with a fitting caption right under. A visual image is almost instantly drawn in your minds and so, we build our ideas of social media thereon forward. One such application that is known for sharing, collecting and interacting with data – personal and impersonal, is Instagram. This essay will take a closer look into how we, the righteous consumers, interact with the ever-evolving yet static visual nature of the widely popular social media application. We delve into the evolution of visual elements of image-based social media networks and analyze the dynamic nature of user-interaction levels with these visual interfaces, specifically focusing on the object of this essay, Instagram.
What is social media?
Michael Dewing defines Social media as “The term “social media” refers to the wide range of Internet-based and mobile services that allow users to participate in online exchanges, contribute user-created content, or join online communities.” (Dewing, 2010). This definition follows a common theory of what we, as consumers of social media perceive. This definition explains in broad terms what social media essentially is, and how it connects web-based services with media consumers and provides them with a sense of ease in interacting with fellow users, using services and joining communities.
How did we get here?
It is rather interesting to see how we fell upon such a concept. We live in an age where distance is seldom an issue in connectivity and the past four decades have only proven to us that media can be used in more ways than we can imagine. With the emergence of the first social network, “SixDegrees.com” in 1997, the wave of social media websites was unstoppable. While there are several arguments to see when social media began, I’d like to quote Michael S. Rosenwald on what I believe is a solid argument on when ‘Social Media’ truly began:
“Internet histories record (Jack) Dorsey’s (founder of popular social media site Twitter) first tweet as a pivotal moment in the rise of social media. They are wrong. The history of social media began almost two centuries earlier, on May 24, 1844, when Samuel F.B. Morse, a painter-turned-inventor, sent a message from Washington to Baltimore.” (Rosenwald, The Washington Post, 2017)
Visual elements embedded in social media platforms
It is now as simple as ever to understand media, let alone social media. From a 3-year-old to a 71-year-old, everyone knows social media. Modern visual interfaces have made it effortless to navigate through the applications and in most cases, even contribute to the interface, thereby making it a truly personalized experience. To lay further emphasis on the visual nature of internet media platforms and the way visualized data is understood and created by its users, we may take a look at the sheer simplicity with which our data can be shared on the web. Data visualization can now be created and accessed by us with utmost ease. (Manovich, 2011)
The focus of this essay is essentially to take a look into Instagram’s visual interface and to analyse user interaction. Instagram is a widely popular social media site mainly used for sharing images and comments. It runs on a simple “likes and follows” system, where users may log into the site and ‘like’ a post by clicking on a small red heart on the left of each image. They may also ‘follow’ an account they want to see more of. With a basic algorithm like such, Instagram’s users function based on these elements, and thereby create more engagement with their own posts shared with their followers, or actively interact with fellow Instagram users.
In the following quote, Richard Rogers offers a more realistic, and subjectively cynical view of what makes a majority of Instagram’s visual identity – the content posted by its users:
“Many Instagram users are said to expect staging. Indeed, the practice of sharing a photo after meticulously setting the scene contrasts with the pointing, shooting and sharing performed on other platforms, including messaging apps, where the aim is the maintenance of ‘ambient intimacy’” (Rogers, 2021)
Rogers’ purview of social media encompasses the elements of the ‘Instagram Infrastructure’ which comprises not only a follower/like count and the content that is complementary to those but also the set up of the images put up by users. It may also be observed that Rogers delves into the ‘aesthetic’ nature of popular Instagram trends and the nature of user interaction.
What makes Instagram’s visuals interactive?
As mentioned earlier, Instagram is one such social media platform that is mainly governed by the content its users upload. While Instagram still holds controlling power to maintain adherence to ‘Community Guidelines’, the application consists of products of user interaction. To further analyse what truly makes Instagram’s visual nature so appealing, we can take a look at one of Instagram’s new features – ‘Instagram stories’, slideshow based images that disappear 24 hours after it was shared. It is widely claimed that Instagram’s new features, such as Instagram stories, can be used as a great marketing tool (The Manifest, 2018). To shed more light on this concept, here is a relevant Youtube video displaying various tips to grow user-engagement rates for better content interaction:
Instagram has also built a user base for people who simply want to connect with their friends and family by sharing images online. While we analyse the various new features, we must also acknowledge the basic purpose of the application.
The visual nature of Instagram also provides a space to build communities and connect like-minded users. For the modern tech-savvy generation, Instagram is almost synonymous with the concept of social media. This uncomplicated platform for sharing day-to-day data voluntarily is here to stay, and we, its righteous users, shall continue to interact with the ever-evolving universe that Instagram is.
(Dewing, Michael. “Social Media: An Introduction”, 2010, 1)
(Manovich, Lev. “What is Visualization? 2011, 3)
(Rogers, Richard, “Visual media analysis for Instagram and other online platforms”, 2021, 4)
Rosenwald, Michael S. “Before Twitter and Facebook, there was Morse code: Remembering social media’s true inventor”, The Washington Post, 2017
Bradley, Rhonda. “How Brands Can Make the Most of Interactive Features in Instagram Stories”, The Manifest, 2018
“How to increase REACH and ENGAGEMENT on INSTAGRAM FAST (HINDI) | Instagram Engagement Drop Solution” – Worthashott (Youtube)