Photography

Instagram is like playing the slot machines; Flickr is … not

I post on Instagram only a couple times a month now. Six months ago it was four or five times a week. I am deliberately leaning into Flickr as my primary place to look at and share photographs. As I’ve done that, Instagram has felt less compelling — almost boring.

There’s something about sharing photos on Instagram that feels like playing the slots. The other day I got a pretty good payout. I shared this 2017 photo of a Studebaker Champion nose and it got 90 Likes in just a couple days, which is a lot for me. Normally, my photos get 30 to 40 Likes.

It felt great to see the Likes mount. It made me want to post again, to pull the bandit’s arm, to see if it would hit again.

I resisted.

I recently came upon this photo in my archive of side-by-side bridges in Ohio, one from the 1820s and the other from the 1930s. I made the photo in 2011 as I explored the National Road and US 40 across Ohio. Shortly after returning I uploaded a ton of trip photos to Flickr, but never this one. I decided I wanted to use it in my ongoing series of posts about bridges; you saw it here just the other day. Its colors were dull, so I punched them up in Photoshop. I made the photo a little too red, I think. But Flickr’s algorithms noticed it, and included it in the Explore feature on December 31st.

National Road and US 40 bridges at Blaine, OH *EXPLORED on 12/31/19*

Flickr Explore delivered 4,041 views (so far) to this photograph! You’d think that should have felt better than 90 Likes on my Instagram post. It did feel good. But it was more like passing delight as the notifications started hitting. I felt absolutely no compulsion to post something else interesting to Flickr to try to get that Explore sugar again.

Both a well-liked Instagram image and being chosen for Flickr Explore are like finding a forgotten 20-dollar bill in your coat pocket. It happens when it happens.

But you have the illusion of influence on Instagram. You think that if you just post the right photo, it will pay off again. You know it doesn’t work that way on Flickr, so you don’t try. You just share what you share, and feel delighted when you’re lucky enough to make Explore.

Instagram is manipulating its users. I want my Internet experience to involve less being manipulated.

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Last updated on 14 March 2020 by Jim Grey

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15 thoughts on “Instagram is like playing the slot machines; Flickr is … not

  1. Jon says:

    Well written post Jim. I quit Instagram last year. All I really miss is the posts from my favorite animal rescue organizations. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was making me shop and spend more than I would have liked.

    • I still find Instagram to be an okay thing to do while I’m “on the throne” as it were but I don’t follow it otherwise. There are a few photographers there who don’t appear to be on other online media, and I’d hate to miss their work. So I stay on for now.

  2. If it gives a false sense of validation or hope then you know it’ll be popular. I don’t do a whole lot of new technology, and correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Instagram require a smartphone? My photo instructor keeps encouraging students to have a professional Instagram and I keep resisting buying a smartphone…

    • Instagram does require a smartphone. You can view it on the Web but without a hack you can’t upload images. I’m cynical about Instagram’s utility for photographers as a way to showcase their work.

        • Makes sense I guess. I’ve had a hard time building a following so I’m not sure how I’d be discovered. But serendipity might happen for some photographers.

  3. tbm3fan says:

    Do likes matter? I don’t really understand why they should as I could give a damn about them personally. I do what I do, to the absolute best of my ability, you can like it or not, but in the end I am happy with my results. Me. being happy and satisfied, is really all that matters in the long run. Live for yourself…

    • There are a couple workarounds, but they break the Terms of Service. I suppose they are unlikely to every find out though.

      Yeah, Twitter is crap for delivering views to my blog. I think most of us photobloggers have the same experience.

  4. P says:

    Instagram is a joke of a photo sharing platform and I actively avoid it. I honestly don’t understand why anybody is drawn to it. Everything about it is just pathetic. If people take their own work seriously, it’s the bottom of the barrel. Likewise, for people browsing other photographer’s work in an attempt to seriously appreciate their photography, it’s equally useless. But what can one expect when it’s a Facebook product? Flickr is a vastly superior platform for sharing one’s photos and allowing others to appreciate them in a meaningful way.

  5. Interesting thoughts. I had avoided Instagram until last year, when I read about an emerging photographer having an exhibition who had first been noticed on Instagram. So I started posting some of my better film shots there, a little while later I notice the curator of a very good small art gallery nearby was following me. So went and saw her, and she now has a few of my prints on display. The two times I have made Explore on Flickr are interesting. First one was a nice shot, but in a popular tourist area, thousands of people must have taken the same or very similar shots. 7,400 views so far, and my most popular image. The second time was a pleasant, but certainly not great shot that I posted to show on my blog. I had been hesitant to even add it to any groups. 5,500 views and 82 faves. I have much better shots in my photostream that have only a few faves. Like you I have learned that these platforms have their uses, but not to get too excited about the hits…and that there is no way of knowing what people will like!

    • I’m always amused by the images of mine Flickr chooses for Explore. Here’s my first ever Explored photo, a quick shot I made for my blog to illustrate a thing.

      Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired film *EXPLORED*

      I mean, *really*? I’ve worked hard to make some lovely images and you choose one I made so casually I didn’t even bother to remove an errant bottle of ibuprofen from the background? :-)

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