Reflection Point: Usability, Accessibility, and Ethics

A Short Review of Instagram

Usability

Instagram has always been known for it’s sleek, simple design. Much less text heavy than it’s competitors, it can rely on users understanding how to use the app based upon simple pictures and icons. Although the UI of the app has evolved over time, it’s basic functions have remained constant. It is intended to be primarily an instant photo sharing process.

UI design of the Instagram profile page

As new apps like Snapchat came onto the scene, Instagram added new functions to compete. Users can now use the “stories” function to stream live video for up to an hour. More recently they have allowed users to disable and hide comments on their posts.

Accessibility

The thing about Instagram that sets it apart from other social media giants is that it is primarily a mobile application. When users log in to the desktop site, the only upside is that they can view the images of the accounts they follow in a large format. They cannot upload an image without a third party app or trick, and the feed still follows a single column format.

Third party app

When considering the accessibility factors of this, we can site both pros and cons. Users with low vision will be able to view photos more easily, without having to zoom in on the mobile app and lose sight of functionality icons. The users relying on desktop programs that read text aloud and so on will have a lot of difficulty using the app to upload photos, which is the whole point!

Ethics

One cannot speak of Instagram without bringing up the discussion of plagarism. With so many users uploading their original (and unoriginal, a whole other side to this) works to a public platform, there is bound to be someone looking to take advantage of it.

The “artwork” of Richard Prince

The above image shows an art exhibition by artist Richard Prince. He basically takes people’s Instagram posts and prints them in a large format, only to sell them for thousands of dollars a piece without any royalties going to the original artists. This point can be made about any images shared online, but with Instagram it seems different because the posts are primarily edited photos, intended to be a visual way for it’s users to express themselves.

In 2012 the company changed it’s Terms of Use Agreement to include the following statement:

“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

This example does is not intended to prove that it is unethical for Instagram to profit off of it’s user’s photos, it is a for-profit photo sharing app, after all. What I mean to point out is that in 2012, when this change went viral, Instagram lost millions of users. The way they tried to slide this change under their user’s noses did not go over well, and resulted in lost revenue for the company as well as a negative image for many years.

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