In attempting to get free of Instagram, I’ve tried several different things, with what can charitably be described as “varying degrees of success.” Nothing has been an obvious solution, not least because of the platform lock-in that keeps most of Facebook’s apps on the top of the Free Apps chart in the App Store. But there have been some lessons.
For starters, the group chat is exactly what it says on the tin: a chat, among a group. It’s oriented toward text, not photos, and among a pre-defined group. Like it or not, the ability to be found and followed serendipitously is a big part of the social media experience. It’s how you find friends of friends and ultimately make them friends of your own, ideally. And that group model is a big part of where these pre-defined group apps run on the rocks: all your friends are not one big group, and in some cases you wouldn’t even want them in one big group.
So that kind of sticks a fork in building atop Signal, or Slack, or other chat-based apps. And the need for privacy kind of prevents building atop simple RSS or micro.blog or the like, because otherwise you’re just blogging. And honestly, the appeal of Instagram is in the pictures, seeing what your friends are up to. So that basically leaves you with other photo apps – things like Flickr or Cluster or the like.
Honestly, Flickr would get the job done, it’s been around forever, and it’s not in hock to the big powers. But it costs money now, and coaxing people back to it is a bit of an ask. The only pictures I see there are from people who have piped their Insta into Flickr with IFTTT. So it becomes a question of getting people to come back to an app and a website that hasn’t been at the forefront of thought for a decade.
And really, what I’m learning through this is that what I want isn’t a more perfect social media. What I want is to have my friends in my life, despite the fact that so many of them are over the hill or in another time zone or on another continent. I want to have a crew and a team around me the way I did in 1989, or 1994, or 2003. If I have fond memories of Vox, it’s because it included people from DC as well as the local high street dining club at a time when I had friends at work at Apple. There were years when we had friends living with us, none of whom are closer than Santa Cruz now. Drinks after work, club hockey at Logitech Ice, Sundays spent at Dan Brown’s Lounge or in front of NFL Red Zone at Farmer’s Union, or even the ability to just text and say “who feels like dinner downtown?” – all part of the past, even if the world were fully open for business.
Social media sucks. This is a fact, and it is indisputable. But in my case, I’m merely trying to find a way to treat the symptoms.