Nearly five years after it was first released, Instagram has achieved something special, something that has eluded Twitter and Facebook.
With its mix of friend photos, vacation postcards, and pseudo-ads, Instagram has stayed fun, really fun. Along with Pinterest, it’s the only major social network that people actually still like to use. And on Thursday, it announced perhaps the biggest change to its service since it debuted web profiles in 2012.
It will now let users think, as it were, outside the square: photos and videos can now be posted in widescreen and portrait formats.
Previously, Instagram had only let people post square photos. This gave images from the service a characteristic look: If you saw a photo on the news or online that seemed strangely cropped to a square, odds were it came from Instagram.
Users found ways to break out of this. Many people began to upload their photos to Instagram with white bars on the sides, essentially creating widescreen photos within a square frame, like so:
As more and more phone screens got taller than they were wide, more and more people did this.
“It turns out that nearly one in five photos or videos people post aren’t in the square format,” says Instagram. The company’s blog post laments that, in the square, “friends get cut out of group shots, the subject of your video feels cramped and you can’t capture the Golden Gate Bridge from end to end.”
In other words, the square frame could literally divide friendships.