Usability, Accessibility, and Ethics of the Instagram
Everybody is on Instagram
It seems that asking, “Do you have an Instagram account?” has almost replaced the question, “What is your contact number?” when connecting with a person you just met. Regardless of being an avid Instagram user or just checking Instagram occasionally to see friend’s photos, you know that almost everyone is on Instagram. Public figures and businesses use Instagram as a tool for marketing; For influencers, Instagram is more than just a casual social media platform- it is their career; Some choose to broadcast their life on the Instagram; Some just wants to view images related to their interest. It doesn’t matter what your engagement level is with the social media giant’s platform. Everybody seems to be on Instagram, and it is more than just a photo-sharing app.
I admit it. I am addicted to Instagram
Whenever I unlock my phone, there is an app that I must check: Instagram. Whether it is subconscious or conscious, I feel an urge to check the app. Sometimes I upload the photos on my feed or story, but most of the time, to see what the new posts or stories are from my connections. Strangely, often there is no new post, but I find myself looking at the post I have already seen, swiping down until there is a little icon appears saying “New posts.” Is it just me or the same with other users? After asking around other Instagram users, I found out that it is not only me. I am addicted, and many people are.
What makes Instagram addictive?
It might seem like users are making their own decisions to check the app. But actually Instagram is carefully engineered to keep user’s attention. Let’s look at the usability, accessibility, and ethics of Instagram that attracts hundreds of billions of users to the platform.
Many users find Instagram very easy to use. Upon a simple process of signing up, the platform displays the list of suggested accounts to follow. After selecting a couple of accounts to follow, Instagram directly takes you to the feed. To get users to follow more accounts, it suggests users find their friends on the platform, add a phone number to connect with contacts on the mobile device, and to add a profile picture. These three actions are what Instagram wants the newcomer to do first — these are displayed even above the newsfeed. They don’t even disappear from the feed until the user completes these actions. This is all you have to do to get started with Instagram — searching for the people to follow. Then the interface feels pretty intuitive. User contents are on the top of the visual hierarchy; Icons are designed to clearly communicate what they should do; Profile picture of other users are highlighted with Instagram logo color to tempt users to tab on it at the top — then users learn that it is to view their friend’s stories; Bottom nav (on the mobile app) indicates where to tab for your own newsfeed. Once you learn what each icon and section do, remembering how to navigate is easy enough.
Upon checking highlighted stories (new stories), the highlight disappears, to give users a sense of satisfaction that they “checked” everything (sense of completion). The next post is cropped at the bottom, indicating there is more to view (again, upon checking out different posts, users can get the satisfaction that they are not missing out). The red dot at the bottom of my profile picture indicates that there is new information related to my account (new followers, likes, or posts from other accounts). Red color gives a sense of urgency to check these out, almost like a to-do list.
2. Accessibility / Inclusion
How does Instagram try to engage users with a disability? This is indeed a visual app, and you might suspect that the app is not intended for the visually impaired users. Last fall, Instagram rolled out a new feature to include the group of users that normally wouldn’t be able to enjoy the platform: Automatic Alternative text and Custom Alternative text. Automatic Alternative text is a technology to automatically analyze the post to come up with a description of the post that works with screen readers. It reads the description out loud so visually impaired can hear what the post contains. Custom Alternative Text is a feature to add your own descriptions to the post and works similarly with the Automatic Alternative Text.
There are definitely features on Instagram designed to get users addicted that might raise the question around the Ethics (come on, as I talked about, many are addicted to Instagram and makes subconscious decision to check the app although there is no new feed.) The platform’s biggest goal seems to be getting users to follow more and more accounts (hence users have more new posts to check out.) Once the user has enough accounts to follow, it constantly reminds you that there are new posts and stories from these accounts (notification via mobile phone and email reminders). When users get used to checking out the new content, it starts to display ads and post that users might like. The Discover section gives you endless posts to check out using the data mining algorithm. Then you find yourself endlessly scrolling down to find interesting posts and new accounts to follow. Once users develop the pattern of behaviors that Instagram intended in users, they are conditioned to check the app whenever they need to relieve boredom. As Nir Ayal talked about in his book Hooked, Instagram acts as a pain reliever although it looked like a vitamin at first: Initially, it pretended like an app that improves everyday life by connecting to others but urges users to relieve the pain of boredom and fear of missing out (FOMO).
Instagram is a fun social app for everyday users and a great marketing tool for businesses and influencers. Its great user interface doesn’t need instructions to teach users how to use the platform. Users benefit from connecting with people or businesses that matter to them. I personally follow lots of accounts with good quotations, so it inspires me every time I check the app. The platform can be a vitamin to improve a user’s daily life if he/she is aware of Instagram’s intended business goals, use the platform with his/her own decisions, and watch out for the possible addiction that gets him/her to waste endless hours checking the same information over and over.