Why do you use Instagram? What drives you snap, edit and share your photos with absolute strangers? This is the motivation behind the research conducted by Zachary McCune, a University of Cambridge student of Modern Society & Global Transformation and also an avid reader of this blog.
After completing his dissertation titled Consumer Production in Social Media Networks: A Case Study of the "Instagram" iPhone App, McCune was kind enough to summarise his findings in an five-page document available to download if you want to read more about the topic. As part of his research, he spent time with Instagrammers at a meet-up in London to understand their motivations, forced himself to use the app everyday and designed a survey to collect valuable data.
Not just your average addiction
The project highlights six main trends that justify the use of the social photo app and other iPhone editing tools. McCune notes that sharing photos with other users and the sense of community play an important role in the popularity of Instagram. Users like to find "a view in common with others" and the feeling that user interaction benefited the community, both in quality output and improving photographic skills thanks to feedback. There is also a strong social network element where Instagrammers use the service to document events and keep up with updates from friends.
Most of the conclusions from this project are drafted from experiences from hardcore users. One of the most interesting discoveries is that these pro iPhoneographers actually use several apps to edit their shots instead of limiting their creativity to Instagram's default camera function and standard filters. This doesn't come as a surprise, but at least McCune's study shows this type of usage and level of craftmanship among his sample.
What I also find very interesting about his findings is the therapeutical value of the activity, since survey respondents mentioned a "stress release" aspect and a sense of social validation from the interaction with other users. As one of the respondents said (and I'm quoting here from the dissertation body), photography is "a highly therapeutic form of escapism where I can truly indulge my creative side."
I love the thought that interaction with mobile apps can soothe everyday's problems and offer a relaxing spot for some minutes during your day. In the age of analog photography going to the dark room to develop was a very personal moment. I'm happy to see that some of that experience remains in the app world. In fact, one of my declared reasons to dislike social photo sharing apps was the developer vanity urging us to make their social apps work instead of apps working for us. Why take the effort to use Color if nobody else is using it? This therapeutic approach might be a key ingredient for mobile app interaction in the future, who knows? Angry Birds is all about releasing anger anyway!