Break Free of the Monotonous Instagram Grid

I’m talking about that 3 x 3 space on instagram that everyone first sees when they look at your profile. What once was a simple repository of images, organising your grid has become today a science-art in itself. But why? Is this part of our human nature to over complicate things? Is it us trying to “professionalise” something seemingly mundane to justify all the hours that we spend using this application? Or is there a valid reason to professionalise the grid?

The original Instagram.

Instagram was originally a pivot of another app called Burbn. It wasn’t even a photo sharing app. In it’s early days, it was a “checkin” app, competing with foursquare, instead of a more obvious, flickr. Their founders noticed that the feature most used of the app was a gimmicky thing that allowed users to post photos with polaroid-like filters. Kevyn Systrom and founders stripped the app from every other feature, and instagram was born.

Looking at this article from The Guardian, from 2013, is interesting to see what opinion we had of instagram just three years after it was launched. At the time, it “only” had 150million users, and it had been recently acquired by facebook for a modest sum of $1billion, and it didn’t have in the horizon a way to monetise the content.

With over 1billion active users, instagram is undoubtedly the king of the social media apps and with a declining engagement in facebook, also looks like it’s their life jacket.

Long gone are the days when instagram was merely an app to apply a filter and share your photos to twitter, facebook or flickr. Thanks to instagram, today we have professions such as: Influencer, instragram growth specialist, and the infamous husbands of instagram.

The grid

More and more photographers on instagram, stopped posting personal photos to their feeds, because their instagram accounts became simply “professional accounts”. The rationale of this theory is a huge lie that we’ve been made to believe “users are drawn to consistency in our timelines, this will drive your follower numbers higher and higher”.

We’ve fallen to this game. The grid brought a rigidness to our content that we never asked for, yet we follow the herd, because we’ve also been made to believe another lie, maybe even stronger than the first one “your number of followers is more important than the quality of your work.’

As a photographer I’ve realised that consistency didn’t bring me any business, nor it pushed my number of followers on instagram higher. In fact, I’ve never gotten any business from my instagram account, and it wasn’t for not trying.

The light at the end of the tunnel

When I joined phlow, one of the things that attracted me most was the idea of a “content centric platform”. In practical terms, this means that in phlow, you follow content, you don’t follow people. Our streams are filled with images curated by the community, it’s images competing against images without a personality bias (you don’t see names, number of followers, etc), it’s like blind auditions for visual creators.

But this concept goes further, we created journals, a tool to give creators access to a highly visual microblogging platform, trying to address an unmeet need that we couldn’t satisfy with twitter (too short and not visual enough), medium (too long), tumblr (not content centric) facebook (too creepy).

The traditional “blog post” is conceptually rigid. It’s meant to be consumed once, just like a newspaper or a magazine article. Once you publish a post, while you can do editorial updates, it’s original purpose really isn’t to add more fresh content to it. A journal allows me to tell an ongoing story.

You can style your text, and also add links, for example to promote products from your clients, giving you a powerful way to monetise your content. You decide to which journals you subscribe. With this concept, you won’t get bombarded with everything I broadcast, instead, you selectively decide what portions of my content you like more and subscribe to receive more of it! With this approach, the grid loses importance. It’s what it should’ve always been, just a simple repository of images.

Journals are still not perfect , but it’s an attempt at trying to fix something that is broken. As a visual storyteller, journals, have allowed me to to tell my story in a highly visual and easy to digest format. It would be great if you take a look at one of my journals and let me know what you think. Do you like the concept? You hate it? Please, help us make it better!

Felix is a portrait photographer, an amateur sourdough breadmaker, and head of operations at phlow.
Twitter: @lybero
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