kottke.org posts about Instagram

Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp?Feb 20 2014

I don't know if Facebook buying WhatsApp for $16 billion is a good idea for Facebook or not, but I'm pretty sure it's a potentially good idea. I'd heard of WhatsApp before, but I first took real notice of it last July when researching this post about Instagram businesses in Kuwait.

Several of the businesses I found used WhatsApp for messaging...browse via Instagram, arrange to buy via WhatsApp. Very low cost, more flexible than SMS, cross-platform, no giant social network appendage to deal with (e.g. Facebook/Twitter), and it's not email. And, the thing that struck me, WhatsApp (and Instagram) being used for financial/business transactions. Services teens use for social grooming are certainly interesting and important (after all, teens' social grooming is how, eventually, we end up with more teens), but when you've got something being used in all sorts of places all over the world as a social tool *and* a marketplace, you've got yourself a platform and that is potentially very valuable.

The Instagram cooking showFeb 05 2014

Fish Tales is billed as the world's shortest cooking show. Episodes are about 15 seconds long and in each one, you learn how to cook a complete fish/seafood dish. Here's the latest one, on cooking razor clams:

Kuwait's booming Instagram economyJul 12 2013

In Kuwait, people sell all sorts of stuff on Instagram, using the service as a visually oriented mobile storefront instead of using a web site or something like eBay. From an interview with artist/musician Fatima Al Qadiri:

BR: Kuwait is a crazy mix: a super-affluent country, yet basically a welfare state, though with a super neo-liberal consumer economy.

FQ: We consume vast amounts of everything. Instagram businesses are a big thing in Kuwait.

BR: What's an Instagram business?

FQ: If you have an Instagram account, you can slap a price tag on anything, take a picture of it, and sell it. For instance, you could take this can of San Pellegrino, paint it pink, put a heart on it, call it yours, and declare it for sale. Even my grandmother has an Instagram business! She sells dried fruit. A friend's cousin is selling weird potted plants that use Astroturf. People are creating, you know, hacked products.

I dug up a few examples: Manga Box is an Instagram storefront selling manga (contact via WhatsApp to buy), Sondos Makeup advertises makeup services (WhatsApp for appts.), sheeps_sell sells sheep, and store & more is an account selling women's fashion items. There was even an Insta-Business Expo held in April about Instagram businesses.

The Entrepreneurship and Business Club of the American University of Kuwait is holding an "INSTA BUSINESS EXPO" which will consist of all your favorite and newest popular entrepreneurs that grew their businesses through Instagram. Not only that, there will be guest speakers by Entrepreneurs that made it through Instagram as well!

(via @cmchap)

The era of constant photographyJul 11 2013

Photographer Clayton Cubitt and Rex Sorgatz have both written essays about how photography is becoming something more than just standing in front of something and snapping a photo of it with a camera. Here's Cubitt's On the Constant Moment.

So the Decisive Moment itself was merely a form of performance art that the limits of technology forced photographers to engage in. One photographer. One lens. One camera. One angle. One moment. Once you miss it, it is gone forever. Future generations will lament all the decisive moments we lost to these limitations, just as we lament the absence of photographs from pre-photographic eras. But these limitations (the missed moments) were never central to what makes photography an art (the curation of time,) and as the evolution of technology created them, so too is it on the verge of liberating us from them.

And Sorgatz's The Case of the Trombone and the Mysterious Disappearing Camera.

Photography was once an act of intent, the pushing of a button to record a moment. But photography is becoming an accident, the curatorial attention given to captured images.

Slightly different takes, but both are sniffing around the same issue: photography not as capturing a moment in realtime but sometime later, during the editing process. As I wrote a few years ago riffing on a Megan Fox photo shoot, I side more with Cubitt's take:

As resolution rises & prices fall on video cameras and hard drive space, memory, and video editing capabilities increase on PCs, I suspect that in 5-10 years, photography will largely involve pointing video cameras at things and finding the best images in the editing phase. Professional photographers already take hundreds or thousands of shots during the course of a shoot like this, so it's not such a huge shift for them. The photographer's exact set of duties has always been malleable; the recent shift from film processing in the darkroom to the digital darkroom is only the most recent example.

What's interesting about the hot video/photo mobile apps of the moment, Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat, is that, if you believe what Cubitt and Sorgatz are saying, they follow the more outdated definition of photography. You hold the camera in front of something, take a video or photo of that moment, and post it. If you missed it, it's gone forever. What if these apps worked the other way around: you "take" the photo or video from footage previously (or even constantly) gathered by your phone?

To post something to Instagram, you have the app take 100 photos in 10-15 seconds and then select your photo by scrubbing through them to find the best moment. Same with Snapchat. Vine would work similarly...your phone takes 20-30 seconds of video and you use Vine's already simple editing process to select your perfect six seconds. This is similar to one of my favorite technology-driven techniques from the past few years:

In order to get the jaw-dropping slow-motion footage of great white sharks jumping out of the ocean, the filmmakers for Planet Earth used a high-speed camera with continuous buffering...that is, the camera only kept a few seconds of video at a time and dumped the rest. When the shark jumped, the cameraman would push a button to save the buffer.

Only an after-the-fact camera is able to capture moments like great whites jumping out of the water:

And it would make it much easier to capture moments like your kid's first steps, a friend's quick smile, or a skateboarder's ollie. I suspect that once somebody makes an easy-to-use and popular app that works this way, it will be difficult to go back to doing it the old way.

How blind people use InstagramJan 03 2013

Tommy Edison shows how he uses Instagram on the iPhone.

So we'll just take a picture of the crew. Why I'm holding the thing up to my face like I can look through the thing is beyond me, but here we go.

His Instagram feed is available here. (via ★precipice)

The 18th century version of InstagramApr 20 2012

Popular in the 18th century, the Claude glass was a mirror that took the scene behind you and transformed it into something different, much like the filters in Instagram or Hipstamatic promise to do.

Claude glass

The Claude glass was a sort of early pocket lens without the camera and it was held aloft to observe a vista over one's shoulder. The technology was simple: A blackened mirror reduced the tonal values of its reflected landscape, and a slightly convex shape pushed more scenery into a single focal point, reducing a larger vista into a tidy snapshot.

Facebook and Instagram as company townsApr 11 2012

One of the more thought-provoking pieces on Instagram's billion dollar sale to Facebook is Matt Webb's Instagram as an island economy. In it, he thinks about Instagram as a closed economy:

What is the labour encoded in Instagram? It's easy to see. Every "user" of Instagram is a worker. There are some people who produce photos -- this is valuable, it means there is something for people to look it. There are some people who only produce comments or "likes," the virtual society equivalent of apes picking lice off other apes. This is valuable, because people like recognition and are more likely to produce photos. All workers are also marketers -- some highly effective and some not at all. And there's a general intellect which has been developed, a kind of community expertise and teaching of this expertise to produce photographs which are good at producing the valuable, attractive likes and comments (i.e., photographs which are especially pretty and provocative), and a somewhat competitive culture to become a better marketer.

There are also the workers who build the factory -- the behaviour-structuring instrument/forum which is Instagram itself, both its infrastructure and it's "interface:" the production lines on the factory floor, and the factory store. However these workers are only playing a role. Really they are owners.

All of those workers (the factory workers) receive a wage. They have not organised, so the wage is low, but it's there. It's invisible.

Like all good producers, the workers are also consumers. They immediately spend their entire wage, and their wages is only good in Instagram-town. What they buy is the likes and comments of the photos they produce (what? You think it's free? Of course it's not free, it feels good so you have to pay for it. And you did, by being a producer), and access to the public spaces of Instagram-town to communicate with other consumers. It's not the first time that factory workers have been housed in factory homes and spent their money in factory stores.

Although he doesn't use the term explictly, Webb is talking about a company town. Interestingly, Paul Bausch used this term in reference to Facebook a few weeks ago in a discussion about blogging:

The whole idea of [blog] comments is based on the assumption that most people reading won't have their own platform to respond with. So you need to provide some temporary shanty town for these folks to take up residence for a day or two. And then if you're like Matt -- hanging out in dozens of shanty towns -- you need some sort of communication mechanism to tie them together. That sucks.

So what's an alternative? Facebook is sort of the alternative right now: company town.

Back to Webb, he says that making actual money with Instagram will be easy:

I will say that it's simple to make money out of Instagram. People are already producing and consuming, so it's a small step to introduce the dollar into this.

I'm not so sure about this...it's too easy for people to pick up and move out of Instagram-town for other virtual towns, thereby creating a ghost town and a massively devalued economy. After all, the same real-world economic forces that allowed a dozen people to build a billion dollar service in two years means a dozen other people can build someplace other than Instagram for people to hang out in, spending their virtual Other-town dollars.

Also worth a read on Facebook/Instagram: Paul Ford's piece for New York Magazine.

Facebook, a company with a potential market cap worth five or six moon landings, is spending one of its many billions of dollars to buy Instagram, a tiny company dedicated to helping Thai beauty queens share photos of their fingernails. Many people have critical opinions on this subject, ranging from "this will ruin Instagram" to "$1 billion is too much." And for many Instagram users it's discomfiting to see a giant company they distrust purchase a tiny company they adore - like if Coldplay acquired Dirty Projectors, or a Gang of Four reunion was sponsored by Foxconn.

So what's going on here?

First, to understand this deal it's important to understand Facebook. Unfortunately everything about Facebook defies logic. In terms of user experience (insider jargon: "UX"), Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever - a chaotic mess of products designed to burrow into every facet of your life.

Instagram filters applied to famous photosSep 06 2011

Mastergram takes photos from well-regarded photographers (Capa, Burtynksy, Weegee, etc.) and runs them through Instagram filters.

Capa Instagrammed

If the Instagram effect can make mundane images appear to be works of art, what happens when we apply the same filters to images that have historically been held in high regard? Is the imagery degraded or enhanced as a result?

The most important page on FlickrMay 18 2011

The recent uploads by your contacts is the most important page on Flickr and it's broken. Timoni West is a designer at Flickr and she wrote a brief post on that page's problems.

The page fails on a fundamental level -- it's supposed to be where you find out what's happened on Flickr while you were away. The current design, unfortunately, encourages random clicking, not informed exploration.

The page isn't just outdated, it's actively hurting Flickr, as members' social graphs on the site become increasingly out of sync with real life. Old users forget to visit the site, new sign ups are never roped in, and Flickr, who increased member sign-ups substantially in 2010, will forego months of solid work when new members don't come back.

Many of my friends have switched their photo activities to Instagram and, more recently, Mlkshk. And Flickr's broken "what's new from your friends" page is to blame. Both of those sites use a plain old one-page reverse-chronological view of your friends' photos...just scroll back through to see what's going on. The primary advantage of that view is that it tells a story. Ok, it's a backwards story like Memento, but that kind of backwards story is one we're increasingly adept at understanding. The Flickr recent uploads page doesn't tell any stories.

As long as we're talking about what's wrong with Flickr -- and the stories thing comes in here too -- the site is attempting to occupy this weird middle ground in terms of how people use it. When Flickr first started, it was a social game around publishing photos. You uploaded photos to Flickr specifically to share them with friends and get a reaction out of them. As the service grew, Flickr became less of a place to do that and more of a place to put every single one of your photos, not just the ones you wanted friends to see. Flickr has become a shoebox under the bed instead of the door of the refrigerator or workplace bulletin board. And shoeboxes under beds aren't so good for telling stories. A straight-up reverse-chron view of your friends' recent photos probably wouldn't even work on Flickr at this point...you don't want all 150 photos from your aunt's trip to Kansas City clogging up the works. Instagram and Mlkshk don't have this problem as much, if at all. (via @buzz)

Tags related to Instagram:
photography video business Facebook

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