Pictures from (my) exhibition.

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

In late November, I got an email from Flickr saying “hey, you know your lapsed Pro subscription? We’re giving you a free Pro account again through late March.” A $29.95 value!

And so they did. And to honor their marketing strategy, I made the most of the past few weeks, uploading and tagging and exploring and doing all that stuff that you’re supposed to do with a social photo-sharing service.

I felt a loyalty of some sort to the once cutting edge service. I joined up in, I dunno, 2004 sometime, posting pictures of then cutting-edge technology, or of our travels on back roads.

And then the other day it reverted to the free mode, where I only see the last 200 pics and the interface becomes decorated gaily around the edges with ads. “Come back!” says Flickr. Give us your $29.95! Ah, well, I would, but there’s Instagram and there’s 500px and there’s Google Plus and really there are way too many places for me to share pictures for my own good.

I’d been using Instagram now and again in kind of a low-energy experimental way and I had a general sense that no one was looking at the pictures I uploaded and no one certainly was clicking on the heart-shaped button that indicated they liked what I put out there. Okay, fine. I didn’t have a lot mentally invested in what I was uploading—I used it more as a vehicle to play with square-format imagery (like I did with SX-70 pictures in the old days.) And the filters—yeah, it was fun to mess my pictures up in various creative ways.

I tried (purely as a science experiment) tweeting links to Flickr and Instagram pics and sure enough, that seemed to generate some…viewership? Linkership? But still, I felt as if I was dropping pictures into some Instagram vortex, never to be seen nor admired again.

That’s because, of course, I was missing one important part of the game (hey, I never read the instructions.) Unlike on Twitter, where, if you search for any word in the text that accompanies an image you’ll get a hit, on Instagram, it’s all about the hashtags. Yeah, those things beginning with that octothorpe (#) that are quite popular with the kids these days are the ONLY thing that Instagram searches and indexes. So a photo with a clever caption (hey, I went to school to learn how to write a clever caption) was pretty much invisible in the Instagramvese. Fill that space with a cascade of #hashtags and apparently the bored people who explore page after page of images will seek and find your Apple 2-ish screenshots or your fine train pictures or your attempts to bring Sohio back from the dead or your pictures of your brother’s family cat.

Suddenly, it appeared that people worldwide were liking my work! Ah, how reassuring. Or at least it would be if I didn’t inspect more carefully and discover another, nastier part of the Instragram ecosystem: a lot of those likes were coming from bots, fictional people, or semi-fictional people who would like you to buy what they’re selling, even if it’s only advice on how to get more likes.

Eugh. Started to feel a bit like the whole somewhat greasy, somewhat distasteful Facebook ecosystem, which I’ve stayed away from like the plague it is. And I guess that’s not surprising, considering who bought those fine entrepreneurial Instagrammers and their technology.

But I’ll probably toss a few more things up onto Instagram, if only to play with their filters. (And I keep a backup of all these images so, hey, they’re just pixels tossed out there in one sense.)