What is Instagram?

14 August 2013

So you've mastered text messaging, are Tweeting like a pro and have even managed to navigate Facebook without public embarrassment - and are ready for the next challenge. Or maybe you've heard your offspring talking about 'Instagramming' and fear the worst. Either way, we're here to answer the question 'what's an Instagram?' and hopefully assuage any fears you may have about the photo-sharing sensation.

Instagram describes itself as a ‘fast, beautiful and fun’ way of sharing your life with friends and family. It’s a photo-sharing social media app that allows users to take and upload photos from their smartphone camera, add filters, captions and location info and then share them with ‘followers’.

On its release in 2010, Instagram was initially an outlet for creative types and trendsetters wanting to post pics of their organic dairy-free fair-trade coffees. But it quickly exploded in popularity to become one of the leading social media apps for iPhone and Android, and was purchased by Facebook in 2012.

Now, even celebrities are 'Instagramming' the minutiae of their daily lives, with pop heartthrob Justin Bieber, serial ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift and professional awful person Kim Kardashian having amassed followers in the millions.

And as of recently, users can share up to 15 seconds of video with their followers as well as photos.

Currently, the app is only available for iPhones and Android devices, and is free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

How does it work?

The app was designed as a way to 'make the world more connected with photos', and with over 100 million active users it’s safe the say the philosophy has taken hold. It’s a more visual and less annoying alternative to Twitter, Facebook and the like, and has become a way for anyone with a mobile phone to claim themselves experts in photography (much to the annoyance of professional photographers and artists).

You have the option of taking a new photo using Instagram’s in-app camera feature, or can upload a shot you've prepared earlier from your camera roll or photo gallery. Once you've selected your picture, the app will then let you crop it into a square shape (similar to Instamatic and Polaroid camera images, and adding to the app’s ‘retro’ feel).

Next, you can choose from one of 19 filters to enhance your photo – everything from sepia and black and white tones, to vintage-looking borders and frames.

You can then add a description, tag followers and add location info for where the photo was taken. Hit upload and in a few seconds, your photo is posted and can be viewed, ‘liked’ and commented on by your friends and family.

When you open the app, you’ll be taken to your personalised news feed, which lets you scroll through the latest photos and videos posted by people you’re following. Hit ‘Like’ to show you approve of a photo, or ‘Comment’ if you've got something to say. You can address comments directly to other users by typing @ followed by their username.

Hashtags are also immensely popular on Instagram, and a way for people to find specific photo themes and expose their own snapshots to a bigger audience (thus hopefully acquiring more followers). Popular tags include terms such as #cat, #sunset, and #iphoneography and are an easy way to help people find your photos.

Is it safe?

Although your Instagram account will be public by default – meaning any other user can see your photos and subscribe to your posts – you have the option of changing it to private. This way, you can approve potential subscribers when they request to follow you, and your photos aren’t accessible to anyone other than people you've permitted to see them.

Instagram is extremely popular with tweens and high schoolers, and it’s understandable that parents may be concerned about what their children could be exposed to. However, Instagram has a fairly strict Terms of Use agreement and, unlike Twitter or Facebook, doesn’t give users the option to privately message one another or share photos only with specific people.

The app forbids its users from posting violent, pornographic, discriminatory, unlawful, hateful or otherwise obscene content, and bans abuse and derogatory comments. If you come across a photo or comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate or abusive, although there as yet doesn’t seem to be a way of reporting a user or account in general for violating the terms of service for anything other than spam.

Instagram also states users must be 13 years of age or older to create an account, and we definitely wouldn’t recommend the service for anyone younger.

Although we have come across the occasional suggestive selfie, for the most part the app doesn’t appear to facilitate sexting (that’s what Snapchat is for!), although we have seen bullying and abuse in photo comments. You can, however, block individual users from seeing your photos and videos (even if your account is public).

Overall, while Instagram does have the potential to be abused, the majority of users are respectful and abide by the terms and conditions. Used correctly, the app is a fun and secure way for people to come together to ooh and ahh over baby hedgehogs, double rainbows and nail art - which is really what social media is all about.



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