Instagram Hates The Internet

"The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
All of the "social media" services want to lock you in. That's been the case for a while. They love their "walled gardens" and they think that so long as they tightly control their users and make it hard for them to escape, they will rule the world forever.

This was the business model of Compuserve. And AOL. And then a little thing called The Internet got popular for a minute in the mid 1990s, and that plan suddenly didn't work out so well for those captains of industry.

But here we go again.

Instagram tries to lock you into their app more than any of the other services. They are hardly even on the Internet at all -- it's more like a service that exists solely on the cellular data networks. Instagram is a dialup BBS. It is the most locked-in and user-hostile of the bunch, as I will now express through the medium of a <TABLE> --

Has an app that lets you post text and images:
Has a web site that lets you post text and images:
Has a web site that lets you delete or edit your posts:
Can send you replies by email:
Has an API that lets you post text and images:
Has a web site that lets people see your posts: But only as of 2012!
Has RSS feeds:
Used to have RSS feeds: -
Real Names policy:*
Hates the gays:*

For these reasons, I've mostly just ignored Instagram over the years -- my attitude was, "Oh, you don't want to be a part of the Internet? Welcome to oblivion." But it seems like these days, as Twitter begins circling the drain, the cool kids are ditching Twitter for Instagram.

The thing that makes the Internet useful is interoperability. These companies hate that. The thing that makes the Internet become more useful is the open source notion that there will always be more smart people who don't work for your company than that do, and some of those people will find ways to expand on your work in ways you never anticipated. These companies hate that, too. They'd rather you have nothing than that you have something they don't own.

Instagram didn't even really have a web site until 2012! You may not remember this, but it didn't used to be possible to see Instagram photos from a web browser at all.

If that doesn't sound insane to you, I can't help with your problem.

Now don't get me wrong, Facebook is by far the worst of the lot. This is largely due to their size and power, but the fact is that they shit on their users far more than the others do. This is a quantitative difference, not qualitative, but it's still extreme. As I've said before, if you work for Facebook, you should quit; it's the only morally defensible thing for you to do.

But wow, Instagram's design decisions are among the most user-hostile and Internet-hating that I've ever seen.

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56 Responses:

  1. Anon says:

    Pure Love <3

  2. FWIW, Facebook owns Instagram, so from a morality POV I don't think there's much of a reasonable argument that they're different.

    • Bob Frobber says:

      Nazi Germany owned France, but there was a bloody big morality gap there.

      (Can I invoke Godwin's law on myself to kill this discussion now?)

      • James says:

        Everything here was true before the acquisition (or even worse before, like the lack of a web site)

      • Joker_vD says:

        Eh, the Resistance movement in France was rather limited. After the war has ended, the Germans were quite surprised to see France ended in the camp of the victors.

  3. Bob Frobber says:

    I am increasingly boggled by the communication mechanisms chosen by millenials. This of course makes me sound like the oldest and grumpiest of old farts, which is no doubt true, but when my 22-year-old coworker (and I'm pausing here for the requisite moment of silence to marvel at the fact that larvae hatched in the 90s are now in the workforce) says she doesn't read text messages because all her friends talk using Snapchat I wonder if I've stepped into a bizarro-universe where communication is only achievable through the least convenient mechanism possible. Twitter and its character limit are passe; if your message can't fit in a caption bar on an image that will be autodeleted in 10 seconds, she doesn't want to read it. I'm assuming in 2019 Snapchat will be supplanted by an app which connects to the recipient's 3D printer and prints a model of an animal with the message engraved on it and which is designed to melt back into goo in 45 seconds to fuel the printer for the next incoming message.

    I signed up for Instagram because I am getting into photography. Never mind that Instagram only lets me upload photos from my phone, so a platform that's all about presentation of photographic content prefers I use the sensor on my small pocket device instead of my large DLSR and lenses. Which I suppose makes sense in the bizarro-world where you can't view Instagram photos on a device large enough to actually appreciate them. But more people subscribe to my Instagram than read my photo blog, so apparently that's how people would prefer to consume my photos. I think that this is a problem with people, because that is preferable to thinking it's a statement about my photography.

    • akef says:

      If my incoming texts could be displayed in braille in ferromagnetic fluid that'd be great.

    • mlis says:

      I have two thoughts in reply to this - one, I have a Motorola phone that has a shake-to-activate camera and this is the greatest thing ever. The camera itself is middling, but crap on a cracker, that functionality has enabled me to get shots time and time again that I would never gotten in a million years with most devices, because my phone is small and I always have it and the motion (usually, la la software la aaaaaa) activates the camera in a second or two. Two, I also have a capable enthusiast camera that has the frivolous-seeming capability to connect via wireless to a phone app, which seems pointless until you realize it allows you to download shots to your phone's gallery from the camera as .jpg and post them via mobile apps to sites like Instagram via a workflow that is less tedious than the ones most DLSR users employ.

      I have no intention of defending Instagram or Facebook; I just enjoy the rare moments when technology coughs up a feature that makes using it a bit more pleasant.

      • Bob Frobber says:

        Yeah, I use my phone camera quite a bit in my photography. But when I want a truly great shot -- you know, the kind that I'd like to share with my friends -- I use my DSLR.

        (Mine also has the wireless connectivity feature, but I don't use it because phone wifi is not designed around the paradigm of "connect to this private, non-internet-connected device". It will either connect to the camera when I want it connecting to the Internet or refuse to connect to the camera when it should because it can't find an Internet endpoint via that connection. Too much fettling. I would have preferred some sort of Bluetooth connectivity, which to my mind seems a more natural fit.)

    • go flickr go says:

      You signed up to Instagram because you're getting into photography?
      Do you think that all photos are square?

      A comparison of instagram and flickr would be interesting. Flickr had years of neglect, but has undergone a resurgence, and is most definitely on the web. I use Flickr, and am happy to miss out on instagram users.

      Oh, and speaking of walled garden lockin, isn't NPM and the kik debacle a nice illustration of that?

      • Aaron says:

        Not really; you can publish Node modules in lots of ways that aren't the registry at, and the npm client will happily install them. I actually find myself doing this fairly often, pointing a dependency at some forked Git repo or other that contains fixes the upstream maintainer hasn't merged or even looked at because maintaining software you've released is so last millennium.

        It's true that the registry is the most visible and streamlined publication option for the ecosystem, and maybe that's a concern and maybe it isn't, but it's a long way from that being the only option.

    • kwk says:


      (did I do it right?)

    • MetaRZA says:

      I'm reminded of a story I read years ago. A moderator at some largish newspaper (wow, how vague can one be) found a thread in their comment section where teen girls where chating about... teen-girl-stuff. He posted to the thread asking them why they chose to chat in a news comment sections. The answer was that they were in class and the school's Net filter didn't allow them to use normal chat apps so they had decided to use the newspaper's comment section, which wasn't blocked.

      "The street finds its own uses for things" - William Gibson

  4. We have always been at war with Eastinstagram.

  5. Karellen says:

    Odd, your RSS feed replaced your square root signs (you know unicode has ✓ and ✔, right?) and saltaires with broken image links. Not sure exactly what the error is though, as my RSS reader doesn't let me view source, and your RSS feed is returning 403 to wget, and I can't be bothered to figure out exactly what set of headers I need to pass it to make it think I'm a "real" user-agent rather than a bot.

    • jwz says:

      What is this I can't even

      // Double-You Tee FUCK, WordPress!
      remove_filter ('the_content_feed', 'wp_staticize_emoji');
      remove_filter ('comment_text_rss', 'wp_staticize_emoji');
      remove_filter ('wp_mail', 'wp_staticize_emoji_for_email');

  6. pagrus says:

    I use instagram a bunch and I also think it's weird that you can't perform any meaningful actions via a web interface. I do use IFTTT a lot too though, so maybe there's an secret API buried in there. Some stuff, like the "picture taken in this area" trigger in IFTTT rely on data that doesn't seem to be exposed in any other way.

  7. Maex says:

    The Indieweb has some additional information that might help at least a tiny little bit.

    • jwz says:

      Whether these services are hackable is not really the point.

      • Maex says:

        Agreed. Fully.
        But this is a trend with tons of apps nowadays. I have used eg. Color Note on Android (notes manager). Saves everything on their servers. No API, no access, no open protocol, no customizing for your own servers. This is just one example of hundreds. And I hate to not have the choice.

        I guess the problem is that there is no to zero demand for 99.999% of the users to host the data on their own servers or automate the access, so vendors simply spare the "hassle" to implement something customizable, interoperable and secure and just use Google Drive API or some AWS stuff as an interface to store things and some proprietary, crude and ugly protocol for everything else and be done. I guess that's called agile and continuous deployment.

        The advantage of course is that they have everything related to software updates in their own hands. Force an update of the app and disable obsolete, now incompatible code on the servers. No hassle with nerds running their own servers or self written clients something like ten versions behind and complaining.

        Joe User is totally happy with that as they don't have the intention or knowledge anyway to run some private "cloud", take care of backups, configure things, ...

        The aera of the Internet, where most users had at least some basic clue is gone. Unfortunately.

        • jwz says:

          You might be feeling generous and attributing a closed design and complete lock-down to engineering laziness, but when you do that, you are discounting the business case for building a walled garden and attempting to maintain absolute control over the user base.

          Do you think the people who make these decisions about what features a project will have are the engineers? Because that's adorable.

          • Based on the laughable tinker-toy level of security and design most of today's "developers" put into their APIs, having your content and personal info on the open web is probably a bad idea if you don't actually want it highjacked by other script kiddies.

            For example, Tinder used to run their API without SSL and put your location lat+long (accurate to 1 foot) in every API response. They also had zero user auth.

            Honestly, I doubt "business case" was the original design for why Instagram did what they did, more like "I want cool photos on my phone and let's worry about the business part later". These kids really don't have that level of savvy when they're starting out.

          • Maex says:

            I guess most services / apps start as quick, ugly hacks and yes I attribute this to the developers (seen / worked for more than one company who painfully suffers from the mistakes of the first few months). Get it running fast, see how it is accepted, regret this for the next few years.

            And of course with the business model of a lot of small companies, writing apps, being making money from ads, walled gardens are then a nice side effect and later on a business model. But IMHO this happens later, when there is some success and the company gets business people in. Then they even start to remove interoperability (Google Hangouts, RSS Feeds that suppress ads, ...).

            Stumbled upon a nice whitepaper yesterday by William J. Drake, Vinton G. Cerf and Wolfgang Kleinwächter: Internet Fragmentation: An Overview.

            • jwz says:

              Halfassed corner-cutting in the 0.9 beta release might have been engineering decisions during those first six months, but that excuse no longer flies after the company has been living under the yoke of VCs for six years. At that point it's malice, not incompetence.

  8. Paul N says:

    If I had a facebook I would be liking this post so hard right now.

    I wish people would stop trying to reinvent email as a walled garden messaging service and start reinventing email as an interoperable messaging service that is secure(r) and resistant to spamming, but still ubiquitous enough that everybody feels network pressure to use it.

  9. Dan says:

    I get where you're coming from, but Instagram really has nothing to with the Internet. It's a social app, full stop. The web interface is just a convenience.

  10. aerique says:

    I see no mention of all the chat services that came after ICQ that tried their hardest not to be interoperable with each other and, finally, with WhatsApp managed to fulfill on that promise.

  11. Dwight says:

    Re: not having a web interface until 2012.

    - 2012 was four years ago. That's a long time.
    - Instagram launched in 2010. It has had a web interface longer than it has not.
    - What Dan said. It is a social app designed to take advantage of the capabilities of smartphone cameras. If you want to upload your DSLR pix, there's Flickr.

    • jwz says:

      - That it took them half their life to even get a web site speaks strongly of their attitude.

      - And they've made such great strides since then! See Fig. 1.

      - Dan's drive-by one-liner is full of shit.

    • Rena says:

      If you want to upload your DSLR pix and never share them with anyone and make it as annoying as possible to see them, there's flickr.

  12. Robert says:

    Bulletin Board Systems existed prior to the Internet.

    • jwz says:

      They did???

      • Karellen says:

        I'm guessing by "The Internet" he means "The Web". (lol. n00b. ;-)

        ...but, Minitel was first rolled out in 1978, while the first RFC for IPv4 was released in 1980, so, technically, it may have been possible that the first BBS predated The Internet.

        • jwz says:

          I would argue that "The Internet" came into existence around 1984 with the replacement of HOSTS.TXT with DNS and the RFC 881 Great Renaming; prior to that, it was the Artist Formerly Known As ARPANET. This was when e.g. "CMU-CS-SPICE.ARPA" became "". So yes, BBSes predate teh intarwebs. But who gives a shit? Telegraphs also predate the Internet and we don't use those any more either; nor do we design new systems that ignore every post-telegraph innovation.

          • Robert says:

            A good number of us do.

          • Nick Lamb says:

            The same applies, all the way back to the General Postal Union (before it became the Universal Postal Union) in the nineteenth century. If it joined the Union your country lost the ability to unilaterally decide how post worked, but in exchange you were now connected to a postal system that spanned the whole globe.

            We think nothing of it today, stick a bunch of stamps on a letter, scrawl the address of a person on the far side of the globe and put it in the mail. We must compromise to connect everybody and everything, or build a walled garden where we make the rules to our sole liking and sooner or later find ourselves alone.

            For the Bulletin Boards the difference was FidoNet. FidoNet was a store-and-forward system, roughly like UUCP only there were more BBS systems using FidoNet at its peak. A board with Fido was part of something larger, a board without was a closed universe.

        • Robert says:

          The original bulletin boards used point-to-point protocol. They were not inter-connected to other machines. Certainly, some of the "pay boards" included an Internet gateway. So who's the n00b? Eh?

          • Karellen says:

            Sorry, the winky smiley was meant to imply a tone of playful reference to the insults of days gone by, rather than an actual desire to be insulting. (Heck, I recently found out that a lot of people these days think that that "lol" means "lots of love". WTF? Does no-one read the netiquette guidelines after they get their connection set up anymore? Almost lost my shit one day when I saw a message (thankfully, not to me) saying "many condolences for your loss. lol." But, I digress...)

            Anyway, yeah, I hadn't considered BBSs on non-"networked" systems that users would connect directly (dial-in) to. Good point. I stand corrected.

            • Robert says:

              The egg's on my face because I was being an old cranky pants. The 'boards - and FidoNet - was about all there was. TCP/IP wasn't in production at the time. It was fun but I don't miss the expensive equipment and telephone bills. I don't miss the noisy modems and every year between the 25th of December to the middle of January, good luck trying to get on any of the "free" boards.

  13. Was surprised to learn just now that the Interop conference is still a thing. In fact there are five per year.

  14. Jym Dyer says:

    There have been a few mentions of Flickr, and I'll mention it again because it was and still is designed for interoperability while being a social networking thingy. You could check off all the green points in your chart up there, plus it's got RSS feeds and other boring old open Internet features. (Also, you get to pick whatever copyright or copyleft you want, not hand it over the Facebook/Instagram.)

    Flickr is of course associated with a mental block: the price of admission seems to be a good photo. I used to keep this distinction myself, Flickr for photography, Twitpic for junkier stuff, but the lines have blurred.

    I am actually impressed at the way Instagram started, offering filters to make cheap cellphone pics look better, and piggybacking on Twitter for the actual social networking, creating instant gratification. I can also see how my Flickr mental block would never go in the direction of junky 640x640 72dpi pics, but I'm impressed that they found the niche. Even as their photo-hosting has improved, though, their policies got worse and away from interoperability, even for people who want to share to Twitter (or to anywhere else but Facebook).

    Flickr mostly fell behind the app, though, and their first app was both late and lacking, compared to Instagram's. The current app is better. To this day, my Flickr content gets more engagement than my tweets, and sometimes rivals what I put on Facebook. I admit I'm not trying very hard with ducklipped bathroom selfies to test various hypotheses, though.

    • +1 for Flickr. A lot of users left for Instagram a couple of years back but I've been a user since 2004 and still get a lot of views/faves/comments on my photos. Still feels all social and networky to me. They've done a nice job with the site redesign recently and the iOS app is now really rather nice.

      • Rena says:

        I'd hate flickr a lot less if their whole model didn't seem to be "host photos but try our best to make it impossible to actually view them".

        • Jym Dyer says:

          @Rena - I am genuinely mystified by your comment. The default presentation of Flickr photos is the same as Instagram's, the Javascript scroll-forever interface. Flickr also provides numerous additional views, such as details/edit, Camera Roll (by date or by category clusters), more advanced search capabilities than anyone (tags, text, color, patterns), and the ability to add tags and other metadata to help you locate them. Viewing them on other pages has been a feature from the start; links I set up a decade ago still work, and if that's not enough there are custom apps and websites like Flickriver and Fluidr to view them in additional different ways.

          Your earlier comment about not being able to share photos is also puzzling. There's a standard-looking share icon with the usual social media options.

  15. Ru says:

    Probably you've already come across this, what with it being a week old and all. And also it is unrelated to instagram. But still,

  16. Zlatan says:

    nice article, can't agree more!

    I wonder what @jwz has to say about slack? (the newest shiny hipster chat that f*cks the free internet). If you have time, would be nice to hear something about that.

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