Is it just the robots that use tags on Instagram?
Surely real people will stop using tags on Instagram soon. Do people actually still use tags even? Who actually sits down and says to themselves: I’m going to have a look through the #iphoneart stream and see what wonderful creations have been posted up on Instagram recently? Well this muppet just did. What did I find? I found a hairy chested man in a baseball cap, a very small tortoise in someone’s hand, lots of pictures of blossom, lots of messages urging me to Get More Followers (I’m trying), dogs, cats, Justin Beiber and not many pictures that you could consider “iphone art”. We know what’s going on there, don’t we? People just copy and paste huge chunks of tags into their pictures without any thought for how relevant they are.
But what if you actually are interested in looking at iphone art pictures? How do you spare your eyes the indignity of all those Justin Beiber pictures? Well here’s an idea: go to Flickr and look through the iphone art group. No Justin Beiber or hairy-chested men. That’s because the group is curated. In other words, a real human is making sure there’s no rubbish. And if you think you can contribute to the iphone art canon, you can apply to join the group.
As I blogged a while back, you can actually hire a robot to do tagging for you. And in answer to my own question: yes, it seems people do still use tags, because Instabutler does still get you lots of likes (hardly any followers though). Or does it? Maybe other robots are searching the tags and automatically giving those pictures tags? Will Instagram activity end up being entirely fuelled by robots in a few years time?
Are there any humans still out there?
Tags and likes and butlers
I was at a pub quiz last night. One of the questions was, what name did a Facebook-obsessed couple in the US recently give their newborn baby? The correct answer was “Like”. My team’s incorrect guess was “Hashtag”, in my view a much cooler name for a child. On Instagram, hash tags generate likes. But if you read my blog last week, you’ll know that one of my new year’s resolutions was to be less liberal with my hash-tagging. But it’s a hard habit to kick. I’d pretty much gone cold turkey recently but the appearance (and sudden disappearance) of an app promising to get you hundreds of likes by using an auto-tagging trick had my thumb reaching for the home button again. The new app, called Firegram, automatically tagged your photos with hundreds of random hash tags and then removed them. So your photos ended up in hundreds of tag feeds but it didn’t make you look like you were a sad depressive desperately seeking approval from other people. Within hours of launching it was closed down by Instagram.
You can see Instagram’s point. Mass and indiscriminate tagging can be very anti-social. It’s the social media equivalent of chucking rubbish out of your car window. Yes, it’s good for you, but it’s not good for the community. It takes longer to scroll through your feed if photos have loads of tags and if photos are tagged randomly you end up looking at photos that you didn’t want to. But tags can have a noble purpose. If you’re visiting St Paul’s Cathedral and taking photos, you might like to take a look at photos taken by other noble Cathedral-lovers by searching for the tag #stpaulscathedral where you will find 6,086 photos of … St Paul’s Cathedral. So far so noble. I use hash tags in the iphoneography classes that I give so I can look through my class’s pictures between classes. A few times we’ve had what I think are commonly known as “tag bandits”, that’s to say, people who see that a tag is being used by a group of people and they copy and paste it into their list of tags that they randomly attach to their photos, whether it’s a photo of St Paul’s Cathedral or not. When this happened in my class, I firmly but politely asked the offending bandit to kindly remove the tag and run along now sonny or I’ll give you a clip round the ear.
But it seems there is a big appetite for likes, and therefore for tags, because they are a sure-fire way of getting likes. Another app I saw recently is Insta Butler, which automatically loads up your photos with specific tags. Or if you can’t be bothered to be specific, with some of the generic tags, the so-called “popular” tags. If you choose this option it adds 395 tags to your photo. I tried it out - purely for research purposes you understand - on one of a photo of St Paul’s Cathedral and within a couple of hours it had increased my likes from 146 to 238.
I noticed the new Macbook Air doesn’t have a hash tag key. Perhaps Apple is already thinking that tags are a bad idea. I wonder how long until Instagram will thing Instabutler is a bad idea. But so long as people want likes, they will use hash tags.
It needed more than #stpaulscathedral to get 238 likes
Where are the tag police when you need them?
The hash tag. Or pound sign, as the Americans like to call it (it’s not incidentally). Until the advent of Twitter, the poor little key had been rather neglected. But suddenly, like an understudy being called forward due to the leading lady’s sudden sickness, it took centre stage. Tagging a tweet meant people who were interested in the same subject as you (if not in you yourself) could see what you were saying about that subject. I watched the Olympics opening ceremony on Twitter and chuckled along to all the tweets from people I didn’t know about Mr Bean and George Michael.
The same tagging system works on Instagram. If you want to see all a collection of rather unconvincing Mr Bean lookylikeys, simply search the MrBean tag: there are over 21,000. Seriously though, it’s really good for checking out what other people have done with particular apps. I often check out #blitbomb to see how people are using this Decim8 process.
But on Twitter you only have 140 characters (you knew that already didn’t you?). So you choose your words, and your tags, carefully. On Instagram, you can pile on as many characters as you like to your caption. So a lot of people have a stock of set tags that they simply copy and paste from their notepad to their captions. It’s like buying the eyes of potential new followers for a split second.
But if a new tag starts trending, the tag bandits will jump in. I was in a town in Spain called Vejer last week so I tagged some of my photos #vejer. I searched the tag to see other photos and was dismayed to see quite a lot of photos that had nothing to do with Vejer. As Mr Bean might say: it’s not clever and it’s not funny.
It’s nice to have other people see our photos by using tags. But it’s not worth spending too much time on it. Get out and take, or app up, some good photos instead.
A real picture of Vejer (with tag)