How to Play Instagram

For me, Instagram has become the most fun and engaging online community experience since I started using Flickr

Gowalla is like Lego used to be—it’s a tool without any rules.
Travis Smith

Inspired by Travis' post about How To Play Gowalla, I present you with my version for Instagram.

What is Instagram? It’s an app for the iPhone that lets you apply effects to pictures you take and post them online. As well, it’s very easy to share those pictures on other social networks.

For me, Instagram has become the most fun and engaging online community experience since I started using Flickr just as it was getting started.

I think it’s no accident that both center around photos.

So, here are some of my dos and don’ts for Instagram. This is not meant to be a “UR DOING IT WRONG” list, but rather some guidelines on what I’ve found to be a fun way to use it, in no particular order.

  1. Post lots of pictures of yourself: please don't. There are other places like Dailybooth that are literally designed just for this.
  2. Like is your friend: the like button is easy to use. Don't think about it. See a photo you like - like it. Want to encourage someone to post "more like this"? Hit the like button. We're on Instagram for the positive feedback loops. Hit that like button, it's a renewable resource.
  3. Nothing but food: I'm known for posting food photos, but I try and stay away from dimly lit / grainy pictures of food and cocktails. Yes, Instagram is a super easy way to share photos onto e.g. Twitter, but think of the "native" viewers of your Instagram stream: we're looking for interesting pictures.
  4. Post pictures of your kids: this is a actually a do! Since I'm not a heavy user of Facebook, Instagram has been a great way to see pictures of kids (and pets) of friends.
  5. Ignore the cool crowd: yes, popular photos are prominent within the app. I suggest you ignore them and find your own crew to hang out with until there is some version of popular-with-your-friends. While popular can be amusing to browse for cute pictures of cats, it's not going to help you on the community angle.
  6. Push the @: turn on push notifications. You'll get likes, follows, and comments directly to your phone. Even better, you can use the @-syntax to mention people in comments, which is kind of like tapping them on the shoulder to let them know they should look at a particular photo.
  7. Share-a-holic: don't share multiple versions of the same / similar shot. Be picky and just share one. Also don't "flood" the stream by sharing lots of pictures in a row / too many photos in one day. OK, maybe two in a row, but only if they're different and you just got onto free wi-fi after taking some really cool shots earlier. Pace yourself, there's no pressure - one awesome photo per day is all we ask.
  8. Friends get friends to use Instagram: I'll admit it, I'm an Instagram pusher. Got an iPhone? Get on Instagram. It's that simple. The bigger picture (ha!) with this statement is that you really do need to follow a larger group of people to get a good level of interaction. The new "what is your network doing" feature of the news feed makes it easy to follow what people you follow are liking, and just lets you "surf" from one set of likes and comments to others.
  9. Post one photo a day: like a silent blog, posting only every week or weeks isn't going to get your Instagram momentum going. I try and aim for one photo per day, and it actually becomes a goal to find this one photo that is worth sharing.
  10. Use other apps: do use other apps. Diptic is a way to share multiple shots in a more interesting way by combining them into a diptic / tryptich / whatever-four-tic is called. Camera+ is an advanced camera app that has lots of editing options, including filters of its own.
  11. #Nofilter: not every photo needs a filter applied. In fact, some are better without filters.
  12. Black bars of DOOM: Instagram photos are square. Resize / scale / crop your photo so it fits into the Instagram square. There! No more black bars on the top and bottom of your photo.
  13. Don't worry, be happy: like Twitter, Instagram uses the "follow" system. So, people can follow you without them following you back, and vice versa. The follow and unfollow button is always there for you, so no matter what I or anybody else says, just use them and enjoy using Instagram any way you like.

That's my take on Instagram. I'd love to hear what other people have to add to my dos and don'ts. And I'm looking forward to an explosion of sites that use the Instagram API to do even more interesting things.

Addendum: Inspiration with Instagram

Instagram is my favorite app for sharing these photos, and also my motivation for taking them most of the time.
Rachael Ashe

Rachael is also a heavy Instagram user, and did up her own post about how it actually encourages inspiration.

I think looking at Instagram as a source of inspiration and goals to aim for is what I actually enjoy about it most. It encourages me to walk through the world with my head up, trying to keep my “fresh eyes” on even if I’m following the same route to work or home.

Update December 19th, 2012

This was originally posted to my long ago and far away Posterous blog, and just re-posted today. I needed it for a comment on Brian Lamb’s blog.

Many people never experienced the awesome-ness of the early Instagram community (i.e. no, it’s not all about the filters), so the recent ToS nightmare has caused some Schadenfreude. I’m not as heavy an Instagram user as I once was, and I’m delighted with the new Flickr app, but I do want to remark that the early Instagram community really was a great thing.