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How do the affordances of Instagram affect the way photos and videos are authored, published and distributed in the network?

Instagram is a photo and video sharing platform created in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger before it was purchased by Facebook in 2012. Since then, it has vastly grown, becoming one of the most popular social networking sites (SNS) – “As the number of Instagram users grew from 30 million in 2012 to 300 million by the end of 2014, it became a valuable advertising and marketing medium. The number of Instagram advertisers increased from 200,000 in 2/2016 to one million in 3/2017 (Manovich, L., 2016, pp. 4).” 

While the platforms popularity continues to grow, with its affordances inspiring a huge change in the world of visual design, it would seem that we have become obsessed with achieving what is called ‘Instagram aesthetic’ in everything possible. “Instagram has become synonymous with visual design and visual experiences. Instagram’s impact has become material, with devices, spaces, cultural institutions and homes all being re-designed and reimagined for the peak Instagram aesthetic experience (Leaver, T., Highfield, T., & Abidin, C., 2020, pp. 150)”.

Our courses prompt of How do the affordances of Instagram affect the way photos and videos are authored, published and distributed in the network? has a direct relationship with this idea of ‘Instagram aesthetics’, as the affordances of Instagram are what’s used to achieve this aesthetic – ultimately affecting the way photos and videos are authored, published and distributed within the network.

In this report, I endeavour to discuss this relationship with our courses prompt, ‘Instagram aesthetics’, how everything in the world has fast become designed to meet this aesthetic in a movement Lev Manovich calls ‘Instagramism’, and how I came to this conclusion over my past semesters findings.


When attempt to unpack the courses prompt, How do the affordances of Instagram affect the way photos and videos are authored, published and distributed in the network?, we must break it up into sections to understand it – defining affordances, authoring, publishing, distributing, photo, video and the network in seperate parts.

Affordances refer to the possibilities that technologies present. This quote from Lister’s New Media: A Critical Introduction is the perfect start, when we attempt to understand and define Affordances. “Technology is not all there is to culture, nor does it determine it in some predictable or absolute way; rather, technologies afford cultural possibilities, not all of which are exploited or actualised (Lister, M., 2009, pp.15).” Authoring refers to how a media practitioner produces their work – the creative choices they make along the way, as they take their photo or video. Publishing refers to where the media practitioner publishes or showcases their work. Distributing refers to where and how the media practitioner distributes or shares their work to, or with. In this case, publishing and distribution would both happen on the platform Instagram, itself. Photo and video, obviously referring to the images we capture from our devices. And finally, the network refers to the internet and social media itself, and how our content is is circulated through it and between one-another. For example, “The Visual Methodologies programme… straightforwardly entails that… online
images become ‘networked’ when users like, share, comment or tag them, and
also when platforms and engines format, filter, feed and recommend them to
others. Images may also be networked across platforms through their circulation,
when the same image is fed to or otherwise resonating on different platforms and
websites (Niederer, S., 2018, pp. 7)”. After pulling apart, defining and comprehending the courses prompt, we are able to respond to the prompt, find the connections between it and ‘Instagram aesthetics’ and begin to start thinking about this idea of how everything is becoming designed towards meeting this aesthetic through ‘Instagramism’. Before this, however, me must also define ‘Instagram aesthetics’ and ‘Instagramism’. Lev Manovich uses the term ‘Instagramism’ in his text Between the Public and Private in Mobile Communication “as an analogy to modern art movements such as futurism, cubism, surrealism, etc. Like these earlier-isms, Instagramism offers its own vision of the world and its visual language. But unlike Modernist art movements, Instagramism is shaped by hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of authors connected by, and participating in (Manovich, L., 2017 pp. 262)”. Furthermore, Manovich discusses ‘Instagram aesthetics’ within the text, noting that “The words ‘aesthetics’ or ‘aesthetic’ are used prominently by Instagrammers and authors of advice posts and videos. For example, the search on YouTube for ‘Instagram aesthetic feed’ returns 7,200 videos, while the search for the phrase ‘Instagram aesthetics’ on Google returns 144,000 results (both searches performed on November 22, 2016) (Manovich, L., 2017 pp. 262)”. Furthermore, Manovich explains ‘Instagram class’, which he uses to “refer to millions of young people in many countries who use Instagram in systematic ways to create visually sophisticated feeds (Manovich, L., 2017 pp. 262)”, which are usually edited in third-party apps as well as using the basic Instagram app functions (which I personally find to be limited). Considering this, we can conclude that ‘Instagram aesthetics’ refer to the way that things are designed to be visually pleasing and attractive to the Instagram user, and that what is considered to be visually pleasing is decided by the Instagram user.

After making my findings, understanding the question that is proposed to me, and the past few weeks of authoring, publishing, distributing and reflecting of my own Instagram content – I came to the conclusion that ‘Instagramism’ and ‘Instagram aesthetics’ are created by the Instagrammers themselves through making use of the affordances and constraints that Instagram has to offer. This changed how I chose to respond to our courses prompt, as this meant to me that if ‘Instagramism’ is generated through affordances and constraints, it also meant that ‘Instagramism’ has a direct impact on how the affordances of Instagram affect the way photos are authored, published and distributed in the network. This ‘aesthetic’ is something that has become so popular, it’s trickling into popular culture and the everyday – with Instagrams impact becoming “material, with devices, spaces, cultural institutions and homes all being re-designed and reimagined for the peak Instagram aesthetic experience (Leaver, T, Highfield, T, & Abidin, C 2020, pp. 150)”.

So with that being said, How do the affordances of Instagram affect the way photos and videos are authored, published and distributed in the network? Well it’s clear that if we are authoring, publishing and distributing on the Instagram platform, then obviously what the platform affords is going to dictate what we are able to achieve through it. But with the rise of ‘Instagramism’ and ‘Instagram aesthetics’ pushing into every aspect of our everyday life and design, as I discovered through my blogposts and Instagram posts (inspired by the quote “Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable (Norman, D., 2013.).”) changes again, not only the way we make use of Instagram’s affordances, but how we choose to author, publish and distribute our photo and video content all together to meet this aesthetic.

  • Leaver, T., Highfield, T., & Abidin, C., 2020, Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures, Polity Press, Newark. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central.
  • Lister, M et al 2009, New Media: A Critical Introduction. Routledge, New York.
  • Manovich, L., 2016. Instagram and contemporary image. Manovich. net, New York.
  • Niederer, S 2018, Networked images: visual methodologies for the digital age. Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam.
  • Manovich, L., 2017. Between the Public and Private in Mobile Communication.
  • Norman, D., 2013. The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. Basic books.

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