Dear Instagram. Here are ten things that would make Instagram that little bit better and keep your users happy. Thanks for your attention.
Filmmakers and photographers are the heart and soul of Instagram. We might not account for the majority of clicks (that’s reserved for celebrities, handbags, and cats) but our images give the platform integrity and the creativity that turned it from an obscure image-sharing app to one of the world’s most powerful advertising platforms.
As content creators, we’ve come to terms with the fact that the chronological feed is never coming back but there are still many aspects that need to be fixed. Some are simple tweaks to functionality, others require a complete rethink by those at the top of how the app treats our content. Let’s get started.
1. Count Our Hashtags for Us
We remember the guessing game when Instagram suddenly, without warning, imposed the limit of 30 hashtags. Then began the fiddly task of counting every single hashtag to ensure you didn’t exceed this mystical number for risk of having your entire caption mysteriously vanish after you had posted.
Today there are various solutions to help you keep count; for example, Later keeps a tally once you pass 15, and I have a script set up on my Mac to allow me to count a number of highlighted words with a keyboard shortcut. However, having an in-app counter would be both incredibly useful and unbelievably simple to implement.
2. Give Us a Reverse Image Look-Up Tool
With so many images constantly being freebooted, having the ability to search for our content being used illegally would be of great value. IMATAG has proven that the technology exists and it wouldn’t take much for Instagram to add an invisible watermark to every image uploaded to make our work identifiable and searchable.
3. Simplify the Copyright Infringement Report
When you stumble across your content being used without permission, the process of reporting the copyright violation is confusing and complicated. Instagram would argue that this is to reduce the potential for unnecessary or frivolous claims; cynics would argue that it’s because there are so many images being used illegally that making the process easier would make the number of reports unmanageable.
Whatever the reason, it should be simplified. If you want to learn how to navigate the existing process in less than two minutes, check out my quick guide.
4. Tell Us What the Hell Is Going on With Line Breaks
Every time I try to break up my longer captions into paragraphs, I think I find a system and then, after a period, it suddenly stops working. I’ve tried dashes, full stops, multiple lines — everything. There’s no consistency and, thanks to my OCD, it drives me slightly insane. Please, Instagram, tell us what you want us to do and stick with it.
5. Separate Likes From Mentions in Notifications
For anyone with more than a couple of thousand followers, the notification system is a mess. For anyone with multiple accounts, it’s a car crash. I love engaging with followers by responding to comments and mentions, but sometimes finding those posts at the end of a day of not looking at my phone can be a nightmare. Being able to separate likes from comments and mentions would make engaging with people a lot easier.
6. Give Us Direct Messaging From a Web Browser
As the platform has grown, so has the number of commercial enquiries that
come via Instagram’s inbox. Coupled with the growth of stories as a means of engaging with an audience, this inbox is suddenly a time-consuming part of the app. Having a means of replying from a proper computer would be a godsend.
7. Allow Us to Retrieve Declined Messages
If you receive a message from someone that you don’t follow, it arrives in a separate part of your inbox as a message request which you can then accept or decline. If you accidentally decline a message, there is no means of retrieving it. Given that commercial enquiries are increasingly common, one accidental swipe of the thumb could mean missing out on work. Of course, most formal enquiries go via email but if a creative director stumbles upon your work and wants to send you a quick message to see if you fancy a coffee, Instagram’s messaging service is the obvious choice. Because this inbox is becoming hugely important, we need a better means of managing it.
8. Let Us Organize Our Feed Into Lists
One of the biggest problems with the end of the much-loved chronological feed was the fact that certain users suddenly disappeared from your feed. Close friends and family were no longer getting through Instagram’s seemingly brutal algorithm and many of the people that I followed might as well have stopped posting altogether. Things have improved slightly but this hasn’t stopped me from creating my own “finsta” (fake Insta) account where I post random photos of friends and family, and also follow very few accounts so that I can see my friends’ babies, cats, snowmen, and holiday snaps.
Having a finsta account can be fun but another option would be the ability to filter my feed into different groups. For example, if I want to browse all of the climbing-related accounts that I follow, I could create a list and curate my own feed. I already do this on Twitter to carve up politics, sport, architecture, and so on, and for Instagram, it would build on the existing feature that allows you to follow specific hashtags.
9. Sort Out Freebooting
A huge number of views on Instagram are of freebooted content and the platform is still reluctant to address the problem. Regramming is still not possible within the app quite simply because it breaches the terms and conditions; by keeping it third party, Instagram is able to conveniently turn a blind eye and, as a result, the app has become more like Tumblr and less like the app created by its founders. If I glance at the search tab where Instagram suggests photographs and videos it thinks I'll be interested in, five out of the first twelve items are stolen.
10. Get More Moderators
A thirteen-year-old opening the app for the first time can type in the hashtag #gore and find grossly inappropriate content in a matter of clicks. A combination of algorithms and humans keeps vast swathes of porn at bay, but having a computer identify brutality and asking real people to sift through upsetting images means that violence is not hard to find. It doesn't help when Instagram TV is suggesting videos of child exploitation and genital mutilation.
In addition, with such a huge number of users, Instagram has a massive responsibility to manage its platform, both in terms of protecting younger users but also ensuring the integrity of its advertising, a tall order when influencers are posting fake sponsored content.
As a platform with billions of users that creates billions of dollars' worth of revenue, Instagram has a responsibility to ensure that it is moderated correctly. That might be incredibly expensive, but given Instagram's size and influence, it's a price that should be worth paying.
Love or hate Instagram, it's a massive part of the photographic and filmmaking industries and there's always room for improvement. What changes would you like to see? Leave your comments below.
Lead image is a composite using a photograph by Oleg Magni.