We are seeing a massive shift in the way people consume social content and we're becoming more and more visual by the day. With over five million images uploaded to Instagram every day and 380 billion photos now taken every year, it's no wonder that Facebook spent nearly a billion pounds to acquire Instagram last year.
For some, there is a feeling that Twitter's 140 character limit is a bit too restrictive; why use 140 character if a picture is worth a thousand words? And if a picture is worth a thousand words then perhaps a video is worth millions? People want to consume information as quickly as possible and formats such as video and image posts do the job so much quicker than their written counterparts. Here at Inq we're seeing the effect of these changes firsthand; the consumers we work with on our software tell us they want to interact on multiple social networks and they want to do that a visually rich way.
So what's caused this shift? One factor is obviously technology; before Instagram we didn't have such great images to post, before Vine we thought of video as a longer format that wasn't bitesized enough to fit into our lives. But there are other factors pushing us towards a more visual approach to our status updates.
Fighting back on information overload
Blog feeds, Twitter updates, status updates, online news; there's just too much stuff out there to read. As the internet has grown, so too has the pressure to be on top of what is going on. The average US citizen now ploughs through over 100,500 words of digital content a day and the cracks are starting to show. Complaints of information uptake stress have flooded the internet and studies on how this overload is effecting our brains make a great case for stepping back and simplifying your media consumption.
For the information stressed, visual networks offer a moment of serenity amongst the noise. Take Pinterest, for example; its design is simple and based on an ordered grid. And interaction is limited - just pin stuff you've found or view other people's pins. After the demands of Twitter, Pinterest felt freeing in its simplicity. Rather than worrying about crafting the perfect blog post or ploughing through reams of status updates, we could now connect with people by just posting or liking an image.
No more 140 character limit; a picture can equal a thousand words
When Twitter launched, the skill of crafting a witty remark in 140 characters became a coveted new addition to a CV. People like Kelly Oxford went from housewife to major celebrity due to their way with words. For the rest of us though, 140 characters could be a challenge. (Hands up all those who have had that 'god-I-must-share-this-moment-on-Twitter' feeling, only to lose interest when you realised you couldn't squeeze it into a snappy 140 characters synopsis) For those non-wordsmiths amongst us, a picture update brings with it a certain freedom. I can show you the amazing meal I'm eating, I can share the amazing sunset with you without having to worry that it's a cliché. And all I need to do that is take the picture and upload it.
It's easier to be creative when you've got an app to help
Most of us like to think we are creative souls. And it's easier to take great pictures if we have an app like Instagram to help us. The process of adding a filter and choosing the crop gives Instagram users the rewards of being creative without the hassle of carrying around a digital camera all day. We all know that our Instagram photos are not the fulfilment of our childhood dream to be a photographer, but it does make us feel a step closer to being able to take a decent photo.
It's the chance to show our lives as they should have been
Since the recession, life has seemed pretty grey. Depressing news and economic poverty with no end in sight. In response, the population has turned to escapism to distract them from the gloom. From the rise of fantasy based shows such as Game of Thrones, or the glut of semi-reality shows entitled 'Made in....", we're obsessed with the idea of how our lives could be. Instagram is just another way of fulfilling this desire. Sun not shining? Add the Rise filter and make it happen. Camera settings wrong? Just make it black and white and add a filter to get that perfect shot. Instagram is our version of life as it should have been.
What do you think? Why do you use an image update rather than writing one? Do you think that your Instagram account will ever replace your Facebook? Are visual networks tomorrow's fad or are they here to stay?