In the election night hoopla, you may have missed the massive Web profile push Instagram made. After announcing that your profile would be hitting the desktop in the near future this week, everyone’s favorite photo-sharing platform is now widely available for users (just hit up instagram.com/your username).
The profiles are simple, beautiful, and relatively wordless – though the release speaks volumes about the company’s direction.
The Facebook factor
Why yes, the new Instagram Web Profiles look an awful lot like Facebook profiles – but what doesn’t? A handful of social network releases lately have been making use of Facebook’s cover photo plus profile photo look, with some sort of data hub sitting off to the opposite side, and social content filling below all of this. Google+ and Twitter now have similar setups, so don’t get too worked up over how Facebook infiltrated and ruined your favorite thing ever yet again.
You don’t have as much control over how this all appears however, and cede that over to Instagram. The app chooses what fills up your cover image (or whatever Instagram wants to call it), and rotates photos in and out of this area.
What you can’t do
Instagram’s community interaction is one of the things that seperates it from the social media crowd. Users are incredibly active, not just posting their own pictures, but browsing and commenting on others’. For the time being, that’s mostly going to remain a mobile focus. While you can manually plug in and hit up another users profile and browse their photos and comment via the Web viewer, there is no browsing or discovery element. When Instagram announced Web Profiles, it was purely announcing Web Profiles and nothing else.
So don’t expect to take all your Instagramming time over to the desktop – it’s still profiles and profiles only.
You also can’t upload photos and filter them, something every Instagram-addict should be pleased to hear. Instagram was mobile first and it’s all about taking and creating quick, smartphone snapshots. It’s not supposed to be a service where you painstakingly upload and craft images. So I’m happy to say this isn’t an option (yet).
But this is only the beginning of Instagram on the Web. While now the effort is relatively limited and features are simple, there’s more to come as far as Instagram on the Web is concerned.
A note on privacy
One of the great things about Instagram has been that it’s something of an exclusive, private place for your photos. That’s not to say that if your account is public, anyone with the app couldn’t find and access your photos, but it wasn’t quite that easy to really dive into your full gallery. There’s also the fact that user search in the mobile app is sort of elementary, and most of us simply find contacts via our established Twitter and Facebook networks, or happen upon users posting content we like under the Discovery tab.
And this – false – sense of privacy meant you were comfortable sharing photos on Instagram you wouldn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Now, they’re also very easily found thanks to the Web viewer. When these resided solely on the mobile-only Instagram, if someone wanted to go through and find illicit or damning images, they had to painstakingly scroll through on the phone. Now, thanks to the big screen and fast load times, you can fairly quickly get through a great many of someone else’s pictures. The amount of time it takes to get to a shot taken months ago on the Web viewer is dwarfed by how long it takes via the app.
Anyone worried about privacy, though, should be happy to know that Instagram’s Photo Maps aren’t available via Web. There were some concerns at this feature’s launch that past photos with geo-tags would reveal more than users wanted, though Instagram did its utmost to provide options for hiding this data. But none of this will show up on the Web viewer, so worry not.
What about third party apps?
Instagram did third party developers a big favor by a) becoming an insanely popular app and b) staying away from the desktop. Apps like Instagrille, Inkstagram, Visual Grub, Instadesk, Carousel, Webbygram, Extragra, Gramfeed, and Statigram brought Instagrams to your desktop when Instagram wouldn’t.
It’s never a good thing when the proprietary service launches a feature that does exactly what outside developers’ apps do (right, anyone who’s ever made anything for Twitter?), but luckily what Instagram’s doing with Web profiles is such a tip-toe into this realm that there’s still plenty outside apps offer that it doesn’t. Browsing, basic analytics, search – these are things third party Instagram Web viewers offer that the platform itself hasn’t begun to explore. If anything, seeing that the startup is interested in making a Web push (which is mostly happening purely based on user demand) is a nice indicator that they might want to focus on differentiating their clients.