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Why is Instagram so popular?

Zohra Ashpari | April 9, 2012
If you're an active social-media user, you can't deny the phenomenon of Instagram--its trendy derivatives were a hit with PCWorld readers in 2011--and now the app, already popular among iOS gadget owners, is available for Android users as well.

Macworld's Seff says that having Instagram makes him more thoughtful when he sees something cool to shoot and gets an idea to embellish it. "When I'm walking down the street and I see a funny sign, or something nicely framed, then I think about how to take the photo and use blurring options within the app," he says.

Even so, Instagram users don't always approach their subjects with an intention, or art, in mind: "Sometimes I just want a fast, quick picture of my kids, and later I might decide to Instagram it," Seff says.

The Attraction

Let's get to the heart of the attraction. For example, check out the Instagram-processed photo of the bell to the right, with the earthy tones washed out, the white burning through, and the borders cropped. To creator Nick Veronin, and to viewers who "Liked" the photo on Facebook and Instagram, or sent him comments about it on Twitter (he has linked all three of his accounts), the photo has an indescribable appeal.

Veronin takes photos of objects that he thinks are aesthetically pleasing--his shot of this bell, for one, can be understood as a reflection on the mundane. "I think my description on Instagram is 'seeking beauty in the banal,'" says Veronin.

What is it about these photos that have such a hold on some people's imaginations? The vintage look and feel of the photos incite a sense of nostalgia, of the good old days or of different eras, Seff says.

But there's more: The images move the viewer one, two, or three steps away from reality, depending on the heaviness of the filter and blur. Ben Long, a photographer and Macworld writer, explains that Instagram images tend toward abstraction, and are more powerful to viewers because they have to work harder to interpret the images. And, as they do so, viewers escape to whatever feelings, memories, and experiences the images evoke.

Status Updates: Photos vs. Words

When it's hard to communicate in words, sometimes photos make the task easier, especially when you're bumping up against Twitter character limitations or struggling with self-consciousness as you attempt to express yourself fully on Facebook, where everyone and your distant aunt is on your friends list.

"[If you're] describing something funny--writing it verbatim--sometimes it's better to show it, and it gives more of an impact," says Seff. He suggests that the emotional impact is heightened because there is ambiguity about what is in the transformed photo in the first place, and what the joke is. Again, you, the viewer, must do more to interpret it, and that inspires a stronger reaction.

To Instagram user and graduate student Heidi Kim, photo updates from Instagram tell personal stories instantaneously: "Usually people are sharing beautiful images, so I feel like it's more positive emotions, rather than people who b**** on Facebook or complain that it's Monday or something like that," Kim says.


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