Has Instagram Jumped the Shark?

This morning when I woke up, checked my phone, and saw my Instagram notifications, I got a sick feeling.

A sick feeling is not normally what I get when I think of Instagram.  In fact, I was an early adopter of Instagram, and have been a huge fan of the service ever since I started using it in November 2010.  In January 2011 I wrote a post that has received more than 150,000 page views.  But as of today, I think the love affair is over.

Instagram used to be a global community of people who shared their lives through photographs.  Now, it seems that it has become a hot mess of trash comments, insincere likes and follows, and spam.  Here are the three types of Instragram junk I have seen increase recently:

1.  The ‘100 Free Followers’ account.  These accounts will follow you and when you check on the bio it’s always the same thing: “Get 100 Free Followers!” and a link.  The avatar is usually of young, attractive girl (of course).  This is the first type of spam that I noticed, and I always block and report these accounts.  It’s annoying, and the number of accounts has been increasing over time.  Forbes wrote an article back in July about how a few enterprising individuals are profiting from selling likes and followers on Instagram.

2.  Random likes from people who have few photos and thousands of followers.  Many of these just started appearing over the weekend, and there area A LOT of them.  Typically, I receive likes on my pictures from a) people who follow me, b) followers of followers, or c) someone who is searching hashtags and gives me a like.  It’s always sketchy when you get a bunch of likes on a photo with no hashtags from people with whom you have no connection.  As far as who these people are, see #1 above; they must have been drinking the Kool Aid.

…and more spam

3.  PORN.   Yep, there it is.  For me, this is the most dreaded type of spam.  Apparently this has been a problem for a while, but I had been insulated from it on Instagram up until now.   This morning, there was a ton of it, all with variations on the name ‘bellacarter69.’  Really?!

My guess is they are all sent out by the same porn cartels because their names, bios, and photos are pretty much all the same.  Which is fine, if you like porn (as I understand a lot of people do), but this really bothers me.  It has made me consider where I might go outside of Instagram to share and consume photos.  

The End of Instagram as We Know It

The bottom line is: there goes the neighborhood.  If I have to wade through tons of spam to find the actual ‘news’ from my friends and followers, I’m not sure it’s worth it.  If I have to be reminded every day of all the desperate, fame-seeking, and porn-obsessed people in the world, I’m going to stop going there.  I’ll shut off notifications to my phone, because they are essentially worthless.

Has Facebook done this to Instagram? Or in other words, will the incredible success of Instagram become its eventual downfall? 

Like Facebook itself, the rise and fall of Instagram is probably inevitable.  People get bored, overwhelmed, and sick of dealing with spam and constant changes to the services they once loved.  The question is, how long will it take, and what other services will have to be created to take the place of these two behemoths?

Just two years after its launch, Instagram is still in its ascension. However, Facebook growth in the United States seems to have leveled off.  While we hear people talking all the time about leaving Facebook, few seem to follow through.  Perhaps because they miss out on a variety of social interactions and sharing activity if they leave, Facebook users feel tied to the service.  However, Instagram is only for sharing photos, and photos can be posted and shared on a variety of services.

So Where Do We Go From Instagram?

While there are plenty of alternatives for taking, manipulating, and sharing photos (check out Snapseed and Hipstamatic), what they’re lacking is a dedicated community.  And that’s the thing that I fell in love with about Instagram in the first place.  If the community is being overtaken by spammers and Instagram isn’t going to fix it, I’m going to take my photos and share them elsewhere.  Maybe this is not a big deal to Instagram, but it is to me.  

Do you have any suggestions for photo sharing communities that also have great iPhone apps? Are you being inundated with spam on Instagram?  Have you left Instagram because of spam?  Let me know in the comments.

Kelly Lux

Kelly is the former Executive Editor of Information Space. Kelly currently teaches courses on Social Media, Online Community Management, and Content Strategy and Application, and she is currently the Assistant Director of the Communications@Syracuse program.

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