The comments and likes of an Instagram photograph become part of the viewer's experience of that image. On this visual social network, communication is subtle, playful, innocent and devoid of any social expectations. It's a place where image makers can go to freely express themselves and find other like-minded aesthetes. The adage says that a picture is worth a thousand words, but on Instagram that same photo is worth far more than that.
The culture of Instagram images is far different from Facebook, which is focused around comments and likes from friends who are in the social circle.
While many people post their Instagram photos to Facebook and Twitter, the majority of discussions occurs on Instagram, limiting the interaction to those who have smartphones," says Michaelanne Dye, PR and social media officer at Georgia Tech College of Computing. "
Facebook offers personal information about users (birthday, gender, hometown, current town, relationship status and more), while Instagram includes little more than a user's name, profile pic, how many photos they have posted and number of followers. The decreased level of social pressure in this space actually makes it easier to start a conversation.
"Unlike Facebook, image sharing on Instagram is not about connecting with long lost friends or making plans for the weekend," says Dye. "The experience revolves around the quality and creativeness of the image. That, combined with the fact that not everyone is on Instagram (unlike Facebook), provides the feeling of a more closed community in which you have a little bit more anonymity."
Instagram does not allow for private messaging between users either. Depending on the Instagram user's settings, every comment or like is either visible to the public or completely private. Users can choose to watch from the sidelines too, if they prefer. Unlike other mobile photo-sharing apps, it's impossible to share Instagram images with a select group of friends or followers.
Instagram is a fascinating way to get to know what types of images other visual thinkers are drawn to.
"In short, Instagram has created a strong social networking site that focuses strictly on the art of photo sharing and visual engagement," says Dye. "It's really about taking a photo and allowing it to become an object of value to other individuals."