Instagram announced today that in addition to its signature square posts, the app will now allow users to upload photos and videos in both portrait and landscape orientations. Prior to this change, users made their whole photos fit by using other apps to add borders. Instagram realized that 20 percent of its users use these apps extensively out of protest, and decided to lift the square-only requirement.
I guess I don’t really have an outright problem with this. I use Instagram regularly, and I guess it’ll be nice to expand my photography choices if I choose. It’s Instagram’s prerogative to change its app when it pleases, and you can always delete the app when you don’t like it. But I think that beyond the obvious “a very popular app has done something significant to its user interface,” there are some points worth exploring.
Because people sign up for Instagram and agree to its terms, Instagram by default controls at least part of the overall aesthetics. You can’t really change the layout or theme of your profile beyond the photos you upload, but you can edit these as you please. And despite this change in the aesthetic that Instagram governs, you can still add your own borders and do what you like to your photos — there’s nothing prohibiting you from continuing to operate as if square is the only option. You still have as much freedom over your own Instagram feed that Instagram has decided to give you — in fact, even more if you decide to embrace the change. And I do appreciate that this move gives more artistic freedom to photographers who use the app to share their art, which is a fantastic effort.
But this kind of seems like policing in the guise of aesthetic freedom. Now when you see a non-square photo on your feed, the white border a user would have added for a portrait or landscape-oriented photo is either added or deleted to the UI, which to me seems like a subtle recapturing. Adding borders within the design options and keeping the square-only ethos would have been a viable option for Instagram, like how they developed Hyperlapse and Layout to edge out the competition. This is entirely speculation on my part, but it seems that Instagram got tired of its users outsourcing and tried to take back even more power. It’s also probably a business move, so that advertisers can do even more. At the user’s level, you can now devote more time to uploading content and contributing to Instagram’s position in the zeitgeist, uncropped photos and all.
This is also an interesting comment on the clout of the App in 2015, and how something like Instagram affects our daily life. This decision to abandon the square-only format made headlines, alongside analysis of today’s stock market and recalls for bread. This was such a shift in the way we think about social media and photography that it made the Wall Street Journal’s coverage, which noted that “Instagram’s move coincides with consumers increasingly purchasing smart phones with larger screens that provide a better mobile viewing experience for widescreen videos.” Today’s smartphones also have options to take square photos — which wasn’t a coincidence. A few people will still continue to use apps like Squaready and Afterlight, but I’m curious to know how these apps will bounce back from such a shift. There might be a resurgence in standard photography, or maybe the square has captured our attention so tightly that we won’t even notice the difference.
I might be crazy, and this might not actually mean much in the way we share photos on Instagram. But what do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.