Some of the best Instagram content tells a story in pictures—maybe with a snap-zoom, or a good ol’ “who wore it best” between Rihanna and Patrick the Starfish. But doing this requires using a clunky collage-making app. That’s frustrating, because Instagram puts carousel-style ads in your feed and long alluded to making the same tools available to everyone.
That’s finally changing, because Instagram now allows more than one picture per post. Starting… whenever it rolls out, you’ll be able to share as many as 10 photos or videos in a swipeable gallery. The multi-posts are denoted by a small icon and a series of blue dots below the first image. You can edit each photo individually, or filter everything at once. You get one caption for the entire set, and every picture must be square. It’s simple and straightforward, not to mention finally something Snapchat didn’t do first. Kudos! But it raises some questions, not the least of which is: What even is Instagram anymore?
When Instagram app launched six years ago, it imposed all kinds of constraints. Your photos were always square, always small, always low-res. You had just a few filters to play with. And it only worked on iOS (Android came two years later). But by some mysterious alchemy, the combination fostered brilliant creativity. It made your photos look better, made sharing effortless, and created an engaging way to let your friends see your world. Rather than dump entire albums of photos on Facebook, users started sharing life one square at a time.
But soon, as with any popular platform, things started to change. Instagram became a business. Users devoted more time and care to their photos, and wanted more tools for showing them off. Those constraints started feeling less like creative prompts and more like handcuffs. So Instagram let loose. Now you can post widescreen videos and tall vertical photos. You can post things in your feed or your story, or go live and not post anything at all. Now you can post more than one thing. It almost feels like too many choices and not enough constraints. The ‘gram was once a single thing, a noun: Do it for the ‘gram. Now there is no such thing as a ‘gram.
The flipside, of course, is that Instagram isn’t about sharing photos anymore. It’s a lifestyle platform, a place for messaging and curating and memes and #sponcon. It’s a mix of Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, and WhatsApp in a single Spartan feed. With 600 million monthly users, perhaps that was inevitable. And think about the viral potential of an Instagram Gallery of Kim Kardashian’s 10 favorite tops, or gorgeous pictures of The 6 Places You Must Visit in Prague. It’s going to make Instagram even more fun to browse.
But Instagram’s now following the same path as seemingly every other popular service on the planet, each trying to be the place users go to do everything, with everyone. Twitter is becoming Facebook is becoming Instagram is becoming Snapchat is becoming television is becoming Twitter. Next thing you know Instagram will include an email client and a music service next to the Explore tab. Given its user base, Instagram is probably smart to give people everything they want so they’ll never leave. Yet it seems fair to wonder if, in doing so, Instagram might lose what made it so wonderful in the first place.