I have a friend, whom I won't name, who takes the most amazing Instagram photos. They're stunning, every bit as good as anything shot with a DSLR. And that's because they are shot with a DSLR. Which sucks.
If you aren't familiar with it, Instagram is a social networking and camera tool that lives entirely in an iPhone app. You take pictures, apply filters (or not) and share them on Instagram, which can also pipe them to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and a variety of other social networks.
Instagram does not have a web-upload option. It barely has a website. It's entirely mobile, and photos can only be sought-out through the app. Sure, each photo generates its own URL, but you can only get that URL if the photo is posted on another service like Facebook. And that's kind of the beauty of the whole thing. It celebrates our increasingly mobile culture. It tags along with your friends everywhere they go, tucked away in their blue jeans and messenger bags. Occasionally, they pull it out of their pockets, and share what they're seeing. And suddenly there you are, with them, connected to one another through a piece of hardware descended from a technology that was created specifically to connect people. I can't be the only one who finds that wonderful.
There is obviously no right way to Instagram. You use it for what you use it for. But certainly it's a social network that tracks what's going on now. When describing Instagram to friends who haven't used it, I don't talk about the filters, or the quality of the photos, I talk about how it lets me see what my friends are doing right now.
It is the quicker Flickr; a visual Twitter.
And so when you post photos from yesterday, or last week, or even a few hours ago that you took with your standalone camera, imported to your computer, processed with an app, and then synced back to your phone, you're slowing it down. Breaking the flow. It's not wrong, per se, but it violates the spirit of the app.
It is, after all, Instagram, not Latergram.
There are a lot of places to showcase great photography online. Flickr, Picassa, Smugmug. I fully expect to see lots of awesome, highly processed shots of Fireworks on those sites on July 5 and July 6 and, Hell, even July 10. But on Instagram if I'm seeing fireworks shots a day or two later it's a little jarring. Moreover, if everyone starts using it the way my friend does, it's going to kill it. Instead of a window, it will become an archive.
And to be clear, this has nothing to do with the gamification features on Instagram. Sure, everybody loves to get their own little hearts and stars. But who cares how many likes somebody else's stuff gets? Ultimately, it's not about that.
I don't care how many hearts my buddy gets; I'd just prefer to see where he is today instead of where he was yesterday.
You can keep up with Mat Honan, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.