Lately I’ve been getting itchy feet when using Instagram. I don’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I used to. Outwardly it has changed very little from the way it was in 2010, when I started using it along with a few friends I’d made on Flickr. But what was an exciting young community back then has turned into a global phenomenon, with celebrities, advertising, and pressure to conform to a particular aesthetic style. Sometimes it feels as though it has become a huge game, a competition to attract followers and amass likes. The result is that using Instagram can feel less fun than it used to. This is a familiar feeling: it’s how many of us came to feel about Flickr a few years ago, which is one of the reasons we decamped to Instagram. So the question is: where do we go next?
It’s fun to be part of new photography communities at VSCO and Steller. But neither of them quite scratches the itch that Flickr originally did, and that Instagram did after that. None of them quite feel like the next big thing. There’s only one app that gives me the feeling that it could be the next big platform in photo sharing, and that’s Snapchat. But Snapchat is very different from Instagram, and I can’t decide whether I prefer it or not.
For one thing, Snapchat’s interface is quite confusing, at least for anyone over 21. (There’s a theory, in fact, that this is a deliberate ploy to scare older people away. I am lucky to have a teenage daughter to act as my guide to this strange new world. In return, I am showing her how to use Facebook, so she can communicate with the elderly.) Instead of buttons to switch between the different screens, Snapchat requires you to swipe in different directions. There are rudimentary photo filters, but they are rather crude (even more so than in the early days of Instagram, when filters were used to compensate for the low quality of smartphone cameras). You can add text, graphics and other elements to images before sending them, and you can share video clips too. But the two biggest differences are that Snapchat requires you to use the camera within the app (it does not let you import images you’ve previously taken and processed) and that nothing you share in your public stream, or “Story”, lasts for more than 24 hours.
In these two respects, Snapchat is the anti-Instagram. It forces you to take pictures and share them right away, direct to your friends or to your Story. The idea is that you show your friends what you are doing right now, and add a silly comment or caption. Of course, that’s how Instagram was originally meant to be used too. But Instagram is very rarely about what people are genuinely doing at the time; instead it’s become populated with carefully staged and heavily processed, desaturated images that portray an immaculate designer lifestyle. You can’t do any of this on Snapchat, because it only lets you share images taken inside the app, which is both liberating and refreshing. Nor do your painstakingly art-directed images stack up over weeks and months into a portfolio-like stream for art directors to swoon over. Snapchat’s defining feature is the ephemeral nature of everything you post: it’s here today, gone tomorrow (or sooner, if you prefer).
Sometimes I worry that Instagram is in danger of becoming a parody of itself. Its clichés have been brilliantly skewered by the “Socality Barbie” account, with its ironic use of the hashtag #liveauthentic to highlight the inauthenticity of posting images that pander to Instagram’s cultish norms. I will continue to post on Instagram, just as I’ve continued to post on Flickr, but I’m looking for pastures new. Snapchat may not be quite what I’m looking for, but it’s undeniably a breath of fresh air. It forces its users to drop the mask and be honest—you might even say authentic. Indeed, if it’s authenticity you’re after, the irony is that Snapchat arguably has the edge over Instagram. Give it a try!
What do you think will be the successor to Flickr and Instagram? Do you also have itchy feet? Let me know in the comments.