Mobile-Only Magic: How Instagram Just Killed What Makes It Special

Well, that's it folks. It's all over. Instagram has come to the web - and not just via static web profiles like the company introduced last year.

No, Instagram is on the web now. It's a full blown web-based social network with a companion app. Forgive me while I totally freak out for a minute over here.

This is what I've been afraid of. 

For Instagram, The Rules Were Different

Instagram is special. It's why we Instagram acolytes almost start a holy war every time Facebook so much as looks at its billion-dollar acquisition. But what makes Instagram so different? The app has a lot going for it, sure. The interface is lovely, with both social networking and social discovery built right in. But that's not it.

The thing that makes Instagram special is that - until today - it was a social network with no web presence. There's an inestimable charm to how Instagram feels walled-off in its mobile-only realm.  You just don't interact with Instagram on desktop. The rules are different. It's like when the power goes out and you have to play board games. And it's really, really fun. 

Mobile-Only: The Final Frontier Of Play

Look at how (and why) we love to hate Facebook. As a social network, Facebook is woven into the fabric of our workday lives - namely we use it on on our desktop computers when we're supposed to be doing something else entirely. That fact makes a site like Facebook feel less like play and more like a professional tic. A social network with a ubiquitous presence across platforms becomes something we shove into every micromoment of the workday - and most of those happen while we're zoning out sitting at a desk.

Instagram wasn't like that - it was serendipitous and social and creative in turns. But that may have all just changed. Now, in every inbox lull and pre-meeting chunk of lagtime, we'll open a new tab and feel the tug - why not just check Instagram? 

The Unbearable Lightness Of Instagram

There's a heaviness to all of this attentional straying. It's the dopamine surge that lures us back to places like the Facebook News Feed, even though we know that little pleasure spike in our brain is as empty as it is ephemeral. Then we're back to the unshakeable guilt of what we were abandoned when we wandered off the trail. 

Mobile is monomaniacal — even with Android's multitasking and iOS's relatively nascent notification center and fast app switching, we pick a portal and enter into it. But on a computer, we partition our screen off into hostile factions warring for our attention - and we never seem to be on the winning side. But on mobile, choosing to open Instagram is just that: a choice and not a tic. 

Instagram is meant to be us at play, capturing the world and parceling it back out to our friends who are out there doing just the same. For Instagram, mobile is more than just a platform. It's a mindset.

Sure, Instagram's web feed will boost engagement and provide new opportunities for monetization and so on. But it could prove to be a major paradigm shift for the kind of unconditional positive regard that the company has enjoyed to date. 

We'll soon be wallowing in our newly compounded web ennui, scrolling back through our web feeds to remember what the good ol' days were like, way back when Instagram was still fun

Remember?