Where to next? What does life after Instagram look like now that the platform is becoming so hated? What began as a simple, chronologically arranged photo sharing app is now virtually unrecognisable, and people aren’t happy. These days a Facebook algorithm governs the feed, the polaroid inspired square format is no longer binding, and Snapchat’s influence is obvious, to say the least. These moves away from the app’s roots are, unsurprisingly, hardly universally popular among Instagram’s 700-million strong userbase. People hate change, toy photographers not excepted. Recently, as first the algorithm, then stories, then the infamous ‘shadow-ban’ rolled out across Instagram, I’ve seen many posts proclaiming:
“Instagram is going down the drain! I’m moving to Eyeem!”
“Come to 500px! This new algorithm is terrible!”
“Google+ is the best social media! No Facebook messing us around over there!”
Toy photographers, it seems, are fed up with Instagram. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet been able to agree on a migration path. The question therefore seems to be, where to go? Which app is the best fallback platform?
Personally, I’ve been looking for new platforms to share my photos on for a few months now. I think, having tried a bunch of apps, that I’ve probably tried whichever will end up replacing Instagram. I know which I’d like it to be, but I’ll get to that in a while. The options, I think – with varying degrees of likelihood – are as follows:
Flickr, Google+, 500px, Eyeem and Instagram.
Yes, Instagram. It gave rise to the toy photography community and it isn’t dead yet. Not even close to it. If most toy photographers end up staying there, I wouldn’t be at all surprised . However, this post concerns alternatives, so I’m not going to go into whether or not Instagram deserves to be abandoned. Of course, toy photographers do use other platforms – Facebook and Twitter spring to mind – but Facebook unsurprisingly suffers from all the same problems people complain about on Instagram. Twitter, meanwhile, seems infeasible as a main output for photographers due to its word-centric format (not to mention the trouble photographers who write long, poetic accompaniments for their photos, such as the wonderful @East_Mountain, would run into Twitter’s 140 character limit) it really isn’t an option. So that’s the list.
Out of these, the platform I’ve been using the longest is Flickr. Doctor Who photos by Rooners, a Flickr user, inspired me to start toy photography, and for a while it was the only platform I used, mostly on my PC. I still rarely use the Flickr app, but to be honest I rarely use Flickr at all these days. Its metadata features have formed the basis of some defences of the platform, but I’ve never been particularly interested in metadata. And while Flickr is arguably functionally superior to Instagram in certain ways (you can upload photos in groups and have them all displayed at once, it has an albums system and groups features…), it just doesn’t feel as friendly to use for me. This is partly because the groups system isn’t as welcoming as G+ communities (more on these later).
Another issue for me is Flickr’s design: the platform presents photos on a black backdrop, as opposed to the white backdrop of Instagram. I use my website to experiment with digital design a lot, and not once in years of near-constant redesigns have I presented my photos on anything other than a white background. It’s almost certainly largely subjective, but I simply prefer the impact of images presented on white to that of those on more colorful backdrops.
Eyeem and 500px
Indeed, this preference for white design is clear when considering Eyeem and 500px. While the two platforms do have slight functional differences (500px doesn’t display captions in its feed, Eyeem has a very active brand partnering competitions element, etc. etc.), in most respects they’re identical. Except, that is, for their colour scheme. Eyeem presents photos on black, 500px on white. Design isn’t my only reason to like 500px, as I do like the emphasis on storytelling with photos alone that arises from 500px’s lack of displayed captions, and that this has meant I’m following several non-anglophone accounts and enjoying their content just as much as that from anglophones. However, I think the difference in background colour is the main reason why I prefer 500px out of the two.
There is one factor that unites 500px, Eyeem, and Flickr, though. They’re all distinctly aimed at the professional photography market, unlike Instagram or Google+. Perhaps because of this, they all feel much less community-focused than other platforms, and I can’t see that any of the three platforms have the potential for hosting a toy photography community as active as we have on Instagram and Google+.
I will keep the 500px app, but I doubt I’ll post on it regularly; instead I’ll use it as something of a gallery for inspiration. Eyeem and Flickr, I’ll delete. I may have started out on Flickr, but I really feel there are better platforms out there. 500px, Eyeem and Flickr are probably great for the professional stock photographers that they’re aimed at – but we’re not professional stock photographers.
So, having ruled out Eyeem, 500px and Flickr, two options remain: staying on Instagram, or moving to Google+. Is G+ the best potential new home for the toy photography community?
I think so.
First a warning: Google+ is not like Instagram. G+ is a much more complex platform than I was used to, and I’ve needed a week or so to get used to it. Most notably, G+ doesn’t force you to create a single, cohesive feed of images. On G+, the desire for symmetry in your profile grid disappears. Symmetry has governed my IG posts for months since I finally got fed up with the mess I had been presenting to prospective followers, so this is very refreshing for me.
You do have a ‘feed’ on G+. However, people mainly view your posts, which can be text-only, in ‘collections’. Instead of posting straight to the home screen, you select one of these collections to post to specifically, allowing you to share non-toy photos, announcements, musings just that bit too short to be a blog post, or indeed anything you feel like, without having to worry about spoiling your pristine profile grid.
Furthermore, instead of just grouping images with hashtags (although they do work), ‘communities’ are groups of pages to post to. Shelly and the Toy Photographers team have utilized this feature wonderfully: if you want the whole community to see your photo, there’s a category to post it in the Toy Photographers community. If you want to share your set review, enter that month’s photo contest, or just comment about something toy-related that’s on your mind, there’s a place to do it. And when you’re just looking for some great toy photos to scroll through and +1 (the G+ equivalent of IG likes), your home screen collects together all the latest posts from the users and collections you follow as well as the communities you’re a part of.
All in all, I have no doubt that this is the best place to be for toy photographers. Yes, of course G+ has its quirks – the inability to post to both a collection and a community simultaneously, for one – but no platform is perfect, and having experimented with the other contenders my view is that G+ is the runaway winner for toy photographers. I urge you to check it out if you haven’t already, and to request to join the Toy Photographers community. I’ve only been using the platform for a little over a week, but I’m loving it. Come and join the fun.
One final thing – all this doesn’t mean that Instagram is dead. The community there is still thriving, and remains much larger than that on G+, for now at least. I’m not going to stop using IG, or even slow down my output there. I am, however, going to be using G+ very regularly from now on. I now have a back-up platform if Instagram finally sinks, and I’d say it’s significantly better than Instagram.
Wonderful thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to lay this all out there. I’m still on Instagram, but many aren’t, which makes the whole place a bit sad. I’m currently juggling many photo sharing locations and slowly deciding what’s for me. I did sign up for 500px when people started switching over, that and flickr aren’t really my my thing though. Interaction is largely lacking on those platforms and that’s part of what I like social media for. Google + is surprisingly, rapidly becoming my favorite. So again thank you, and good luck to us all as we decide which platforms to commit our time to.
Thanks Jennifer! It seems we mostly agree on this; I would certainly concur that Instagram just doesn’t feel as vibrant as it used to, in the toy photography community particularly. Luckily, we have a good alternative… Now if everyone could just move to G+…
Maybe one day, eh.
Its kinda funny, as I started out my artistic life on Google Plus, and am now trying to build an Instagram following (shameless self promotion alert @debaere_lego). Its a bit of a slog, but I am making progress.
Gotta agree tho, for all its warts, G+ has been, and still is, the best places online for artists to hang out and collaborate I’ve seen so far.
Interesting! Someone going against the flow. Well, good luck with Instagram, Dave!
I’ve never heard of 500px or Eyeem, but I know about Flickr and I have a hard time liking it. Probably because of a similar reason you mentioned, it’s too distant, mostly pros. IG was my first love, and although I joined G+ at some point, I had trouble working with it since recently. Even though my IG activity is more… well, active, I do post on G+ more often than before. One of the main reasons for that is I can combine my art account and Lego account there. Also the use of collections & albums is a huge plus, since I love seeing similar pictures all in one place.
I wish the developers realized that they’re destroying the community instead of improving anything, but that’s never been what FB cared about. At least there’s a “small” community to escape to 😊
Thanks for your two cents Pinar; I agree Facebook’s tunnel vision updates are infuriating, but as you say, we do have a great community to escape to!
I reckon Flickr is still the birthplace of Social Media for photographers and it has been cast aside like the first wife of a millionaire. Poor Flickr. Sure MySpace was around a couple of months before it.
I’ve been on Flickr since 2006, amassing some 8,739 photos on their. The biggest difference between my Flickr profile and the others is all 8,739 images are still available and easy to find. The ephemeral nature of Instagram, Google+, Facebook, et al. means our images are there for a limited time and then they fade away, rarely to be seen again.
Flickr also used to have a vibrant community focus. They had a massive staff of community managers. In the same way Google+ is now courting the Toy Photographers, Flickr used to hold events all over the world for people.
Sadly it’s true, their mobile app is annoying in that it presents itself as a feed, trying to compete with the likes of Instagram, but it is far from a service aimed at Pros… I’ve honestly never felt that Flickr was like that. Sure they had a weird connection to Getty for a while where you could license your photos through Flickr, but that seems to have gone away, but other than that Flickr has been mostly about images and community (via groups).
I worry about Flickr’s future, with the sale of Yahoo in the near future (if approved), who knows what might happen to Flickr, which I understand hasn’t been making any money for Yahoo for a while. But I’m not ready to abandon her yet. I still participate in the Lego groups over there too.
So I guess, while Google+ is good, my pipe dream would be for a Flickr resurgence, or for Google+ to adopt some of what Flickr does well.
Really interesting to hear your views on this Tyroga- I can see where you’re coming from; maybe I just came to Flickr too late to appreciate it.
Oh and I call BS on Instagram’s claim of a “700-million strong userbase”.
I’m sure they are referencing total accounts as if each one was a different user, but I think I have like 5 accounts myself and I believe a LOT of people operate multiple accounts.
In fact Instagram had a banner you may have noticed over the last couple of weeks encouraging users to create new, separate accounts to “Share with a Smaller Group, create a private account to post photos and videos to people who share your interests.” with a “Create New Account” button. I’m sure they’ve done this to bolster that number further.
Good point; I expect you’re absolutely right there, seems a very FB thing to do.
I am not sure if i am just being simple simon, but i have gone onto google+ after reading your column and i cannot find any posts / commuities/collections for toy photograhy/photographers. What exactly do i need to search for to find all these beautiful people?
Hi Birdie – try https://plus.google.com/b/108677118733002328546/communities/107717476696294795419
Great read and observations. I chose the 500px platform as my home base. Got a paid account and love the presentation format.
Thanks Stephen – you’re proof I think that the issue of where to go from Instagram can’t simply be solved by all moving to G+, as not everyone has the same priorities for what they want in a social media!
Great post Joseph. I’ve been a G+ boy since 2013 and I think it is a natural social photographer’s platform.
I’m too new to IG to comment to much, but I’m not the biggest fan.
As for Flickr: my Pro account isn’t a good way for me to spend my money.
Thanks Tony- great to get a real variety of responses to this post!
Thanks Joseph for your insights. There is no “one size fits all” answer out there. For many people new to IG, I’m sure it feels just fine. But for those of us old timers who new it way back when, it simply isn’t the same. Community building isn’t organic, its a chore. If I want to work on something, I have better things to do with my time.
I like the comment made by Tyroga. Im sure that IG / FB are screwing around with numbers to inflate their own importance. I would love to know how long people are active on the platform and how many accounts are no longer active.
While G+ has its warts, its looking pretty fabulous by comparison. I’ll take a small dedicated community any day.
Thanks for adding your two cents Shelly- I completely agree that G+’s more active community is much more what I want in a social media, small though it is, but I can also see, annoyingly, that as in most things what we want is blue what everyone wants. Ah well, I’m not complaining, I’m glad to’ve found G+ when I did.
I’m so angry with Instagram those days and I feel relieve to see that there are a lot people thinking the same as me.
I don’t have a Google + account, I think it’s time to create one!
Thank you for your article 🙂
Thanks Karine; I think we’re very much in the same boat! Enjoy exploring G+!
I started into toy photography a number of years ago on Flickr. Back then it really felt like it had community. But wholesale changes were made and forced down, often with no warning, the “Unlimited forever” Pro account got limits, and people started to drift. After a time I started to realize people weren’t posting images and welcoming discussion – all they wanted were “Likes”. Groups that had once been a place to share, suddenly had b.s. rules like “Post 1, Like 5” and you were just liking crap to get you minimums, just so you could add your photo. Didn’t take me long to start packing up and pulling out.
Thanks for your comment Ryan; having also started on Flickr and drifted away, I know the feeling!