Now that Instagram has introduced a "Photos of You" section for tagged snapshots just like its parent company Facebook, you can forget the beautiful images of pro photographers and amateurs trying to be pro — your square cellphone art is about to degrade into filtered party pics. Starting right now, everyone's favorite photo-sharing app is rolling out a Facebook-esque tagging feature — notifications, names, and, well, "even that adorable dog you follow." You can check off privacy settings for tag approval, but basically Instagram is about to work just like the addictive, vain photo albums on Facebook. None of which should surprise you since Facebook bought Instagram a little over a year ago, but the more features the parent and the beautiful young buck share, the more they start to overlap. And does anyone really want that?
Both Facebook and Instagram have a heavy emphasis on photos. A Harvard Business School study found that 70 percent of the activity on Facebook is related to pictures. Mark Zuckerberg said at the introduction of the social network's new News Feed that Facebook would be emphasizing bigger images because half of existing News Feeds were eaten up by photo posts. He even had a chart:
Facebook users post hundreds of millions of photos every day — on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day Facebook reached a peak of 1.1 billion images, and you can bet as many of them were of drunken reveling humans as inanimate fireworks. Instagram sees around 40 million photos per day. But the images are of a different sort: Some of it beautiful, most of it brunch plates and adorable dogs.
That's the thing about Instagram: It still attracts professional photographers, and amateurs trying to make their photos look professional. The New York Times runs Instagram photos on its front page. The New Yorker features them on its blogs. Surely not everything on Instagram is exactly highbrow, but most of it is at least trying to be, and even the selfies are a kind of genre unto themselves, more platform specific than disposable-camera relic.
Facebook, on the other hand, attracts the type of photography that could get you fired from your job. A search for "Facebook photo get fired from job" pulls up no fewer than 1.5 million such nightmares. Facebook is a photo dump of reckless abandon, a haven for cellphone camera rolls without filter — literally or figuratively. There's no artistic bar like on Instagram, where at the very least you're sort of trying to impress people with your photography, not just trying to show off who you're hanging out with. The existing @ tags on Instagram are almost a happy sidebar: How many of your friends' Instagram handles do you know by heart, and how much do you care?
That's where the psychology of Facebook tagging comes in to play: "People love tagging their friends and family," reads a 2010 Facebook press release. And it's true: People love to waste time browsing Facebook photos because of the friends, frenemies, exes, or crushes tagged therein. Rather than win us over with filters and Saturday evening sunsets, Facebook won us over with people. That's what makes the pictures interesting. It has also made picture-stalking a relatively accepted form of silent social interaction. The "Photos" tab on a Facebook profile is a known hub for learning all about a person these days. Tagging has given Facebook and its photos a specific purpose for existing, for getting to know someone — for better or worse.
But Instagram evolved into something without all that. It was never about the who. Right now my Instagram stream is pictures of stuff — scenery, landmarks, fashion — with just a few shots featuring actual human faces; the only photos in Instagram's Popular tab as of this writing were of Ellen DeGeneres and Mila Kunis. With Instagram tagging, of course, all that will change. People will start thinking about other people. And soon Instagram will become Facebook with filters. Bet you can't wait, right?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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