Recently, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, publicly stated that the focus for the popular photo-sharing app, owned by Facebook, is shifting toward video going forward. Feeling alienated, some photographers are moving on to Twitter to share their work and build their communities. Some are upset, and have been for awhile, that a service where they grew their business, and made a significant number of connections, has morphed into something they consider unrecognizable.
‘In my eyes, Instagram stopped caring about artists and independent creators a long time ago. I have been a huge supporter of Twitter since the beginning, and found a thriving photography community here around 2019, when I began to pursue it as my primary social media outlet,’ photographer Bryan Minear tells DPReview.
Ok thx bye Instagram! https://t.co/dh0TDJrmmA
— Reuben Wu (@Reuben_Wu) July 1, 2021
Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger set out to create something that would showcase photos captured on a mobile device. They studied a popular app at the time, Hipstamatic, which applied filters to images but lacked social sharing features. After fine tuning Instagram, they let friends beta test it before an official launch in the App Store in October 2010. After being acquired by Facebook, less than two years later, in 2012 for $1 billion in cash and stock, a limited-use web interface launched in November.
One of the key provisions of the agreement with Facebook, when Instagram was acquired, was that management would remain independent from its parent company. In December, Instagram drew criticism from the community when its Terms & Conditions were updated to allow the app to sell photos on the platform to a third party without permission, from the creator, or compensation. Some users deleted their profiles before the terms were eventually retracted.
Instagram initially allowed users to only share photos in a square aspect ratio. Over the years, new aspect ratios became available, for both horizontal and portrait orientations, along with the ability to upload video clips. In 2016, Stories, a feature that allowed users to post highlights that would last 24 hours, was introduced. IGTV, a standalone app that streamed video clips lasting longer than one minute, debuted in June 2018.
Systrom and Krieger abruptly announced their resignation from Instagram on September 24, 2018. While their public comments about the departure seemed mostly civil, Systrom told The Verge ‘no one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome, right? Work’s hard.’ What it ultimately signaled was the definitive end to the independent spirit that separated Instagram from a corporate overlord.
Obsessed with the fact that all of us photographers are joining @Twitter … such a great platform for photographers!
Drop your favorite accounts below 👇💙
— Sabrina (@advawtsphoto) July 2, 2021
In August 2020, Instagram introduced Reels. From their official post, it was made clear that the company was looking to showcase ‘entertaining’ videos. Perhaps this was an indication of the company’s direction and a possible clue why the two original co-founders parted ways? There isn’t any doubt that some of the new features over the years have attracted a wider audience. As of the end of June, there are over 1 billion monthly users on Instagram.
Now, in what appears to be another pivot, Mosseri took to the platform, on his official account, to announce Instagram is shifting its focus.
‘We’re [also] going to be experimenting with how do we embrace video more broadly – full screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video,’ Mosseri says in the clip. ‘You’ll see us do a number of things, or experiment with a number of things in this space over the coming months.’ It was this line that caused an uproar in the photography community, however: ‘We’re no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app,’ Mosseri fatefully stated.
While he would take to Twitter in an attempt to retract those last words, the damage had been done. His initial statement spread like wildfire across the Internet and was the last straw for many photographers that saw their engagement drop over time on an app whose algorithm was favoring more ‘entertaining’ content, regardless of the quality in some instances.
— 𝔹 ℝ 𝕐 𝔸 ℕ 𝕄 𝕀 ℕ 𝔼 𝔸 ℝ 🌒 (@bryanminear) July 1, 2021
For the time being, it appears that Twitter is the place for the professional photography community to congregate. Since they did away with the dreaded ‘Twitter crop’ at the beginning of May, and allowed full-sized images in 2:1 and 3:4 aspect ratios to be displayed, more photographers are joining and sharing their work. Twitter Spaces, a direct competitor to voice chat app Clubhouse, is also widely used for photographers to share new work and advice.
‘Just a few months ago Twitter expanded their vertical single image posts so that they were viewable full screen in a move seemingly aimed at the photography community, which makes it seem like they are listening. On the flip side, Instagram has done nothing but promote video-centric features at the expense of still photographers for years. They’ve made it loud and clear that we aren’t welcome anymore,’ Minear adds.
Will Instagram’s new direction help or hinder its growth and engagement? The next few months will be revealing. Either way, the damage looks to be done as some of the more prolific photographers and artists in its user base have departed for Twitter.