Is this app responsible for the out of control Instagram hashtag situation?

hashtag overload header

Hashtags are a significant part of Internet culture that are deeply ingrained in the Web’s collective psyche. However, not everybody knows exactly how to use the function for good, and one of the breeding grounds of horrible hashtag behavior is Instagram.

We’ve offered a how-to guide for becoming Instagram famous, and one of the tips is the proper (and maybe even stringent) use of hashtags. There are countless of services out there that will offer you insight into the most popular tags to use to ensure that your photo gets the most ♥ clicks, but there’s actually an app that takes it all a step further by telling you exactly what tags to use to achieve popularity. It’s called Instatag, and it might be responsible for how out of control the Instagram hashtagging situation has become.

“We wanted to develop a way that Instagram users could further share their photos and experiences through accurate and relevant hashtags. Our goal was to make hashtagging as quick and easy as taking a photo,” says Rob Ward of Annex Products, the Australian company behind the development of Instatag. 

That, we get: Manually typing in each and every hashtag is a pain. But maybe it’s supposed to be that way, to keep us from you know, doing this: 

instagram hashtags

What is Instatag and what does it do

In an ideal Instagram world, hashtags are used to isolate photographs based on topic so that like-minded enthusiasts can enjoy themed content in one go. Think of it like Facebook’s friends lists – you want to be able to drown out all the unnecessary noise and focus on posts only your favorite contacts share or hone in on updates that tackle subjects you’re most passionate about.

Instatag eliminates the need to have immediate knowledge on what tags to append to your photos – it generates pre-defined lists of the most popular hashtags circulating the media-sharing app (that’s what we’re calling Instagram these days). This means it’s really, really easy to hashtag your picture into oblivion – and it might be a slippery slope for some of you. The creator of the hashtag, Chris Messina, even wondered if Instatag was responsible for the insane amount of Instagram hashtagging going on: 

In order to start adding a barrage of tags, you need to select a category you want to classify your photo under. Available categories include People, Nature, Scenery, Food/drink, Fashion/design, Photography, Technology, Animals, Color, Transport, and Contest. Generally, one category should be enough, but in the spirit of “the more, the merrier” Instatag seems to inspire, you can choose as many categories as you deem appropriate.

Instatag (1)

Tap a hashtag to include it in your list. Just remember that Instagram has a 30-tag limit, so don’t get too carried away. Instatag has a friendly counter that will remind you how many tags you have so far.

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The Location category will provide you crowd-sourced tags based on your exact geo-location. You will need to click on approve and authorize the app on Instagram to use this feature.

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My Tags lets you add your own customized tags and save them for later.

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Swiping right on top of your list will allow you to easily delete all tags you’ve selected so far. 

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Too many tags? Just tap on your list to delete one or all of the active tags. You can also save the list for later use.

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You can also access other pre-determined lists to make the choosing process a lot quicker.

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If at any time you want to see what sort of photos are filtered into the tags you’ve chosen, just click on the # symbol next to an item on the select page to pull up its feed within Instatag. You can even like the photos on the feed, without having to be in Instagram.

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When you’re ready to use the hashtag list, tap the Copy Tags button up top to copy your tag selection. This will automatically bring up Instagram. It won’t automatically paste the tags into your photo’s caption area though, so you’ll have to long press on the text field and click on Paste to manually transfer your hashtag list.

Instatag (10)

Almost immediately after sharing my photo using Instatag, I receive a huge spike in Likes, which proves that hey, hashtags can do wonders for getting your photo out there! I think it’s also important to note that none of these first Likers are people that I actually know in real life, so OK, maybe it could be a tool to meet new acquaintances … none of them have actually followed me, though. So let’s dive back into Instatag and see what else there is to do.

Instatag also has a list of Trending Tags on Instagram, which could be a perk for a lot of people since Instagram doesn’t offer this kind of information themselves. There’s also a separate Top 100 list, which offers a little more than just what’s trending.

I tried adding my new set of tags as a comment to my original photo, but I guess the 30-tag limit includes tags in the comments section.

Instatag (11)

So I posted a new one, this time only using tags from the Top 100 list. Again, instantaneously, I get Likes. And I kept getting them. One Liker even went ahead and Liked some of my old photos, which proves that these people are real and not automated spambots (although some could be).

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And a new follower to boot.

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The root of the hashtag problem: you

So now we know Instatag works. But where did this uncontrollable compulsion to type the pound sign in front of any word imaginable come from? Twitter can be partially held responsible for over-saturating the hashtag, but even then, people on the micro-blogging site tend to use hashtags ironically, which is a bit more forgivable. Twitter is also about text – Instagram is about images. And that means something like this is infuriating:

hashtag overload

Confession: I was actually a late Instagram bloomer. And at first, I tentatively and ignorantly tried using hashtags. But then I started trying to mimic what I was seeing others doing … and without knowing any better, I myself became a hashtagging monster. Take a look at the hashtags I’m guilty of using, courtesy of Statigr.am:

jam hashtags

I’m ashamed I ever asked people to #followme (I apologize, it will never happen again). Thanks to common sense (and my own growing irritation), I was able to disassociate myself from those who are all too happy to overload their small Instagram caption space with hashtags.

It’s a sad fact, but it’s true – Instagram has an out-of-control hashtag problem because of you and your desire to be liked (we all experience that, to be fair). In my own experience, it was my need to keep up with the Joneses and look like I knew what I was doing – that’s what got me started on using hashtags in the first place. And Instatag definitely revived that longing for some Instagram appreciation, if only for a moment – I’m still constantly receiving likes, and I’ve only overhashtagged two photos. I can see why some people have a hard time kicking their bad hashtag habit. 

It doesn’t help that sites like Statigr.am and apps like Instatag exist – they are not part of the solution, that’s for sure. Sure, on some level they educate users on which tags generate the most buzz, but the effect of overusing hashtags (a habit encouraged by these services) is an extreme inconvenience: First, you get a barrage of likes for your photos (admittedly a nice ego boost) and maybe even a handful of new followers. Then the spammy comments come in, ones that ask you to visit some site or beg for a follow back, which you probably would do at first because you’re such a friendly person. After a while, you’ll notice that you’re actually losing followers, because those people who followed you before only did so you’d reciprocate, and now that you have, it’s “see ya, sucker” for you.

But that’s because Instatag and apps like it take more pieces of “human” out of Instagram. When you automate, you’re in danger of letting the spambots win! 

For now, the onus of it all falls on us. Look inside yourself and choose one, maybe two hashtags. OK three, but keep that your low limit. Please. 

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