In which I change the terms of my relationship with Instagram by thinking about how to build the upcoming Photos section.

Reboot: The Terms of My Engagements

1527 words about creative — 09:47 · 16th Jul 2022

Last time on the Reboot, I spent way too much time thinking about CRUD patterns and CMS labels.

One of my goals with the reboot is to own my data.

My original intention was to start by creating a replacement for Instagram, hosted on my website.

But once I started thinking about why, how I was doing it and the building blocks that would get me there I realised I had to start with a smaller problem.

The way I see it, Instagram is images. Images that are meaningful, and as such ought to be described.

That description comes in the form of text.

If we remove the images but keep their descriptions we are left with a text-only medium, which—disregarding its contemporary state for a moment—is basically Twitter.

From this, my conclusion is that text should always come first because the text is the modality that’s easiest to transform from.

Following that conclusion, I instead changed the terms of my relationship with Twitter because that’s where I had to start.

Continuing the work, by looking at this through the lens of modality-compounded-complexity means it’s now time to turn my attention to images and its twice-compounded cousin, videos.

Let’s build Photos.

First, we’ll look at the thing I’m moving from.

What is Instagram?

Just like last time, I’m sure you already know what Instagram is, this is just to put my thoughts into their appropriate context.

Bringing you closer to the people and things you love. Connect with friends, share what you’re up to, or see what’s new from others all over the world. Explore our community where you can feel free to be yourself and share everything from your daily moments to life’s highlights. Apple App store blurb

I’m looking to take any of Instagram’s core features that I like, so let’s take a look at what those are.

Posts are persistent images with 2200-character captions. Images are cropped to a 1:1 ratio by default.

You can edit an Instagram post after it’s been published but only to: add location, change the caption, tag people or add a text description for the image—often incorrectly called the alt text.

Stories are similar to Posts, except they are deleted after 24 hours unless you tell Instagram to save them.

Instagram frames Stories as a way of, “showing a lighter side of your brand: Stories are less polished than posts. That makes them ideal for showing users how fun you can be. This could be anything from taking users behind the scenes at a work event to having fun with some customers or audience members.”

So I suppose I now need to ask myself, “how fun is the brand and does it need to be fun-er?”

Videos are, well, moving images of up to 10 minutes. Verified Instagram users can post up to 60-minute videos.

Reels are similar to Videos except they’re arbitrarily shorter at 15 to 60 seconds. You can add multiple clips to a Reel.

Live, or real-time broadcasting is Video that is streaming. This is probably the most interesting feature in that it allows anyone (who has the internet and a Meta account) to become a broadcasting channel.

Instagram also has an assortment of activity metrics—and I’m interested in building exactly none of them so we’re not going to bother looking at Likes, Followers or anything like that.

My problems with Instagram

My main problem with Instagram, and all contemporary social media is that our relationships with them are extractive.

If Instagram is a spider, we’re not the insects, we’re the mass of dissolved insect juice.

Even Dispo which claims to provide a more authentic social networking experience only exists as a reaction to Instagram itself. And if poorly-cropped photos are what makes things authentic, then most of my life is authentic, regardless of platform.

And any platform built as an antonym is ultimately still playing by the rules of its antagonist, it’s “Instagram but okay with women’s nipples,” or “Twitter but free speech”.

As their platforms change, yours will have to do the same.

To be different is a negative motive, and no creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. A negative impulse is always frustrating. And to be different means ‘not like this’ and ‘not like that.’ And the ‘not like’—that’s why postmodernism, with the prefix of ‘post,’ couldn’t work. No negative impulse can work, can produce any happy creation. Only a positive one. Eva Zeisel

This will serve as my reminder that despite my objections to Instagram, I shouldn’t build an Antigram.

And just because I’m changing my relationship with Instagram (by Meta, formerly Facebook) doesn’t mean anyone else is. Or that I can even expect them to.

I have to apply the principle of data-ownership to everyone, not just myself.

Just like with Twitter, I’m not looking to leave Instagram but to change the terms of my relationship with Meta by ignoring all the extractive features that benefit Meta and instead building something that benefits me, and you.

How much stuff I’ve posted on Instagram

Before we move on to thinking about what Photos should be, let’s look at how much content I’ve produced so we know what I need to at least consider—even if I decide to not support this kind of content moving forward.

In the last year, I’ve shared 84 pieces of content on Instagram, which were:

  • 82 images
  • 4 series of images
  • 2 videos

Based on data from March 2021 to March 2022.

On average that’s 7 pieces of content per month.

Cartoon-version of Carlos Eriksson dressed as a scientist, experimenting with a giant multicoloured spider-monster.
Mmm, glorious content for the Meta-spider, feed the Meta-spider!

What Photos should be

Photos is a system that allows you to publish one or many images and videos with a text description and caption. Photos can be cropped and grouped into Subjects.

The main purpose of Photos is to serve as another modality of my autobiography. Images and videos captured through the lens that is my perspective to form a collection of living photo albums of my life.

A place where I decide the terms and conditions and I—and you—can browse everything in a predictable chronology.

I’ll need to build in an interface for cropping images—I did a quick review of existing options back in 2020 to find a landscape of JavaScript-only solutions that aren’t accessible.

In fact, thinking about the interface a little bit more, I’ll need to review what kind of compositions I’ve used in the past as well because Instagram allows for a lot of things I won’t have the resources to build.

I’ll need to investigate how to handle multiple images: each image will need a text description but be connected with a single caption.

I’ll need to investigate how to support videos, both conceptually—that allow for complex text descriptions—and a potential editing interface.

If I can support Videos, then I want to also consider live streaming.

I already have Subjects (formerly Topics), so should be able to group Photos into Subjects quite easily.

So, when I publish an image or video, a few things should happen:

  1. The Photo is published in a newest-to-oldest list
  2. The Photo is published in the RSS feed
  3. Using the RSS feed and 3rd party solution (possibly Zaiper), the Photo is automatically syndicated to my Instagram account

I already have the architecture for the first two.

I’ll need to investigate the RSS integration. The goal here is to find something that I can hook into which takes care of everything so that my responsibility ends with the RSS—I have no interest in building and supporting my own integration. This approach also means I can unhook it whenever it stops being useful.

Oh what’s this? A note from past-Carlos.

Always consider adding Titles and Slugs to Models.


Using the same approach to Information Architecture (IA) as I did in the Blog and Notes section, this is the URL structure I’m making:

  • /photos/ – photos landing and listing page
  • /photos/{year}/ – photos sub listing page
  • /photos/{year}/{slug} – photo entry
  • /photos/feed/ – photos RSS feed

Instagram appears to generate a unique 11-character alphanumeric string as the ID for any given post, which is then used as the link (URL).

I’ll be generating a word-slug instead and using that as the link.

So, after all this, what’s my todo-list looking like?

  • Answer: how fun is the brand?
  • Review Instagram Business account to allow for “content publishing”
  • Investigate series of images
  • Investigate videos
  • Investigate live video streaming
  • Investigate Zapier for RSS-powered syndication
  • Define Photos data model
  • URLs
  • Build interface for uploading, cropping, and metadata management
  • Export old Instagram posts
    1. Review existing text descriptions for each
    2. Create missing text descriptions
  • Import old Instagram posts on switch-over-day

Phew, that’s quite a bit of work.

So let’s get to it, but don’t expect anything in the next couple of months.

You’ve just read Reboot: The Terms of My Engagements.

In which, 1 year ago, I wrote 1527 words about creative and I covered topics, such as: web design , behind the scenes , and instagram .