It’s not an actual cloud
Instagram was down briefly yesterday morning. There was quite a long outage a few months ago when the world seemed to stand still. People began, quite litererally, to twiddle, if not their thumbs, then their fingers, aimlessly. And the photos posted by people just prior to the outage enjoyed hours of exposure on all their followers’ screens. I had to look at a plate of sweet and sour chicken for three hours. Yesterday’s downtime lasted only 10 minutes or so, but it reminded me that Instagram’s photos do actually sit on real computers somewhere. I always imagine them housed in a bunker in a barren wasteland in Iceland. When their servers go down, a woop-woop alarm goes off and a red light on the wall starts flashing and a dozing security guard with an Instagram logo on his cap springs into action and grabs a huge red phone to alert the four-man team in Silicon valley, who then get a crack IT diagnostics team dressed in black military fatigues (an Instagram logo on their backs) to fix the problem.
This may be somewhat fanciful, but what is true is that our pictures do actually exist on a hard drive somewhere. It’s not an actual cloud. And unless something awful happens to Instagram (perish the thought) or to Iceland (I haven’t been, but I’m sure we should perish that thought too), that picture of sweet and sour chicken is an actual little jpeg file. You can go to Statigram and simply drag and drop a copy onto your own hard drive. But the operative word in that description is “little”. Your original photo is compressed and stored at a fraction of its original size. So if you want to print off your picture and put it on the wall, you’ve got to hunt down the original. Or if you want to do a book of your Instagram pictures, although it’s tempting to use the convenient bridges that exist between many online publishers and Instagram to source your photos - again, a fraction of the size, a fraction of the pixels.
Iceland is quite small, so if ever Instagram goes high res, it might have to open a new server centre in Greenland. And hire a second security guard.
Somewhere in Iceland
My IG follower numbers are on the slide
As I turned in for bed last Sunday night, I had a quick check of my Instagram stream (I had posted a couple of what I thought were quite good photos from my round of golf during the day) and with a slight resigned sadness, I noticed my follower numbers tick downward below 2,600. Statigram tells me my follower growth in the last month is -5. I’m wondering if I’ve hit my follower peak and, like many other parts of my life (my golf handicap is nudging up too), am now on an inevitable downward slide.
I’d seen tips on how to get more followers. Did any of them list “Don’t post any photos”? It seems my two photos that day had reminded some of my followers of my existence. And they unfollowed. I’m not a super user by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t want to follow more than 300 or so people (because I do like to interact with the people I follow but I want to keep on top of the paperwork), so inevitably I don’t follow back a large chunk of my 2,600 (slightly fewer now) followers. And one of the tips on many of those lists is “Follow people, as many will follow back”. I’m not one of those people, so I have a regular stream of people who unfollow me.
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, you can only get big follower numbers if you’re on suggested user list. The main one is Instagram’s, which pretty much guarantees 5- or 6-digit numbers. But there are others. My heyday of follower growth was when I was briefly on a very minor suggested user list somewhere in India until I said something slightly derogatory about Instagram in my blog and was removed.
There’s a guy in New York called @arnold_daniel on Instagram. Until recently his profile picture was a middle finger. He never replies to any comments and he has a website called whentosaynothing.com. Needless to say he doesn’t follow me back. Why do I follow him? Because he takes great street photos and is a real inspiration. Personally, I like getting comments from other people on Instagram (and replying to them) but, at the end of the day, isn’t it mainly about the photos?
Did this picture mark the peak of my follower numbers?
The intern’s arrived at Instagram!
The four-man Instagram team must have their summer intern in already. He’s not getting paid but he’s already proved he can do more than just make tea. He’s only gone and added comment and like functions to Instagram’s web-based bit. Yes, that computer that was sitting over in the corner of the office for so long has finally been turned on and has seen some coding action. You know if you tweet one of your Instagram photos and someone bothers to click on the link they are directed to a page with your photo. And before smarty-pants turned up, that was it. A cyber dead end. Your Twitter follower would obviously be full of admiration for your photo, but nothing more. Now they can like and comment! More functionality!
It’s a move that will draw closer some of those non-Instagram people on Twitter who are dimly aware of our photo-taking activity and who might, if they are really bored, click on one of our Instagram-Twitter links, if our caption arouses their interest. They might say something and then get the Instagram bug. Development seems to move slower than a glacier at Instagram but this is also a significant step towards integration with the web. Statigram watch out!
Spotters badge to @HarrisonWeber who drew our attention to the intern’s excellent work in his article on TheNextWeb (all one word).
He hasn’t been sitting around reading the paper!
Who stopped following you recently?
My students sometimes teach me more than I teach them. Well, in this case, they ask questions that teach me something. This week, one of my students asked if you could classify your Instagram photos into themed folders. Mmm, I said. Good question. I don’t think you can. But I remembered that actually on Statigram, the web-based Instagram viewing interface, you can. And then I went and created one folder for various of my recent portraits and one for some recent black and white photos.
I remember in my first blushes of Instagram, at one of the first Instameets I attended in London, I wondered how my newfound friends managed to write such detailed replies in some of their comments. And they told me about Statigram. Which opened a whole world of statistical goodies. For those people concerned about these things (and come on, most of us are) there’s a quite revealing section under Community that shows you which followers have left in in the last 7 days. Boohoo! And which people you follow who don’t follow you back. Oof!
I recently introduced it to my good friends at @cornershophq. I’m helping them run an Instagram stream to promote their band so for them it was really important to keep up to date with their fans’ comments. And they can use a new feature that tells you if you have comments that you haven’t responded to. So there’s no excuse for being unsociable. Which reminds me, I have some paperwork to be catching up on.
My friends at @cornershophq: engaging with fans more because of Statigram
Instagram in the classroom (for free)
I’m running a 5-week course on iphoneography at a local college. I’ve run it twice now and I’m starting the third run this week. It’s really great fun. And it’s fantastic for me to share in that initial wonder when my students discover some of the amazing things they can do with their mobile camera. In the first week, I throw them in the deep end and I get them to do a basic blend of 2 photos using an app called Image Blender. In the first two groups I’ve had, they were awestruck. And there are so many of those moments in the class. Also in the first week, we introduce Instagram. Not because I’m getting any commission from Instagram (I wish), but because it’s a really useful tool in the classroom. After doing our basic blend, I get the students to post up their results with a special tag on Instagram and we take a look at them on the big screen (using Statigram). And then I send the students away with some homework for the following week and ask them to post their photos on Instagram with the tag. And so I can see how they’re doing and make helpful comments as they go. OK, so Facebook bought Instagram. But isn’t this another example of a pretty good service totally for free (for now)?
In at the deep end: blending in the first week.