If social media is the narcissist's tool, then a social media company's year-in-review is the narcissist's thinkpiece. We, the users, like to brag about what we discussed, where we went, who we liked—and what better way to revisit these obsessions than with the annual deluge of year-end top-10 lists? Facebook tells us we freaked out over Ebola and obsessed over the Ice Bucket Challenge. Twitter reminds us how much we loved taking selfies. Tumblr shows how often we reblogged GIFs of kittens.
But these lists aren't just reminders. They also offer insight into how some people behaved online. Consider the places users went—or at least the places where they turned on geotagging features—in 2014, according to Facebook and Instagram. The locations below are the most checked into for the former, and the most photographed for the latter. In other words, they're the places Facebook and Instagram users felt the need to share with others:
Facebook and Instagram's Most Popular U.S. Locations
|1. Disney Properties||1. Disneyland|
|2. Universal Studios Hollywood||2. Dodger Stadium|
|3. Times Square||3. Times Square|
|4. Yosemite National Park||4. Madison Square Garden|
|5. Grand Canyon National Park||5. Yankee Stadium|
|6. Yellowstone National Park||6. AT&T Park|
|7. Yankee Stadium||7. Golden Gate Bridge|
|8. Las Vegas Strip||8. Santa Monica Pier|
|9. Hollywood Walk of Fame||9. Universal Studios Hollywood|
|10. Madison Square Garden||10. Fenway Park|
Unsurprisingly, visitors swarmed to big cities. But while the two platforms used similar methodology to compile their data (Facebook tracked check-ins; Instagram consulted geotagged locations), there are discrepancies between the lists: People liked to check in at national parks on Facebook, for example, when in previous years, national parks failed to crack the top 10. Why are people differing on where they check in and where they photograph?
One obvious guess is that the platforms attract different demographics. If Facebook's user base skews older than Instagram's, it makes sense that different age groups would share different kinds of experiences. But even for people who use both services, the platforms differ. People use Facebook to update friends on anything and everything, while they only share photos on Instagram. And that means users may choose to publish to either Facebook or Instagram depending on where they are. In other words, maybe sharing a location on Facebook is enough to update friends, whereas taking a filtered photo is a step further. For instance, Fenway Park only shows up on the Instagram list. Maybe that's because when a person visits the historic venue, they feel compelled to share a photo of the Green Monster—not just the fact that they're there.
On a behavioral level, there's also a clear distinction behind what people prefer to share on each platform. Users appear more likely to snap photos in locations friendly to crowds and events, like at stadiums and at theme parks, than to check in. Could this be because people want to show who they're with? Could it be the sheer size of these crowds to begin with? (A bigger crowd means more people are available to Instagram the scene in the first place.)
Of course, the difference between the lists could just be an anomaly. After all, five of the locations overlap, raising a question of whether many of the same users are checking in on Facebook then instagramming, or vice versa. Plus, in previous years, Facebook didn't lump all Disney parks into "Disney Properties." Doing so may have left a few spaces open for places like national parks to make the cut.
Still, the lists show that we congregate where others are, and that we like telling people about it. Theme parks and stadiums take up most of both lists, and internationally, it's the same thing. In the top-10 most photographed locations worldwide on Instagram, two are shopping malls and three are stadiums. Six of the 12 countries Facebook looked at outside the U.S. listed a theme park as their number one checked-in location.
No matter the platform we use, we have a need to show that we're somewhere and very often with someone else. That's not so much narcissism, but just another way that humans are social.