Visual Essay: Comparing Social Media Networks

A Look at Numbers

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There will be 400 million people scrolling Instagram today. 95 million new posts will be added, and today alone will there be 4.2 billion new “likes” on Instagram, the world’s second most popular social media network. The number of profiles has risen steadily since its debut in 2010; this is seen in the chart above. Facebook, as I’m sure you know, remains number one in the most popular social media network. With 2 billion users active monthly, as represented in the graph, 1.15 billion users will scroll Facebook today alone. Each second there are five new profiles added to this extensive social empire, stretching across continents and including over a quarter of the global population. Due to the numbers alone, these social media networks must have, at the very least, some impact on our society.

Unlimited Reaction

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You can see here how front and center the sense of reaction is on Facebook. Not only can you “like” a post, but you can also tap a symbol to love, laugh, cry at, be surprised at, or be angered by a photo. This creates an easy access and emphasis on the reactions, rather than a focus on the photos themselves. Facebook, additionally, leaves an enormous space for comments. You can not only comment as many times as you deem reasonable, but you can also “like” someone else’s comment. Of course, this is in addition to “liking” the post itself, which is basically an essential if you’re going to leave a comment. Furthermore, the use of emojis are never to be forgotten—Facebook created its own set of emojis limited to their network only, which only allows for more reaction room. Without a doubt is Facebook a site that’s meant for others, not solely for yourself.

Follow Me

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Instagram is no different to Facebook when it comes to highlighted reactions. Numerical data is extremely apparent on every user’s profile. As you can see, the top of a profile includes information about the number of posts, number of followers, and number of users you’re following. This creates an unhealthy obsession with ratios. I mean, please, you can’t have a successful Instagram account without following less users than those who follow you! (Yet another “unwritten rule” of Instagram.) In addition, each user has a “followed by” tab, where one can see mutual friends that follow the user. Instagram is no different from Facebook in regards to encouraging users to react, whether that’s in the form of liking, commenting, or following. It’s clear that both networks of social media highlight the reactions of the posts and profiles, rather than the photos as they are.

Introducing VSCO

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We’ve seen here that the two most popular social media networks in our world today create an enormous emphasis on reactions to the photos and posts they include. However, I’d like to pose this question: Must social media be this way? Is it inherently a form of external expression, one that’s meant for others? If possible, how can we establish a social media form that doesn’t spread the chronic share/react cycle? Above is an example of a VSCO page from the view of a computer screen. As you can see, it is much more of a “photo diary” that leaves out excess text and/or information.

Tell Me Your Life Motto

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From a Facebook profile, as seen on the photo above, you easily notice the abundance of written information that lies in a single profile. The bottom left has an “Intro” column, where Facebook asks users questions that range from “Where do you attend school?” to “What’s your life motto?” These questions clearly aren’t for myself, as I don’t need to confirm where I attend school or tell myself what my life motto it. Additionally, there is a definitive number of “friends,” which is blatantly showcased on the profile.

Follow Me, Follow Me Not

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In contrast, the bottom illustrates the page where VSCO users view their followers and who they’re following. There are absolutely no numbers involved. If you really wanted to find out how many people followed you, you’d have to dig through and count for yourself. Additionally—and perhaps the most important part—you are the only person who can view your followers and following. Thus, there’s no obsession with numerical ratios because these numbers don’t exist to the user or their followers.

Photo First

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This would be the page you see if you click on a photo to look at it closer. Quite clearly is the photo the “star” of the screen, as any other information is significantly limited. The caption’s purpose is simply for the viewer to gain a better understanding of the photo. This is unlike Instagram, where each caption demands energy & thought and always aims to be authentic & witty. Over my five years of using this form of social media, I’ve seen only a small handful of posts that don’t contain a caption, and, even then, almost always do they include a location and “tagged” users. In a way, captions are “required” on Instagram, another element that makes the two social media forms vastly different. VSCO captions are optional, and—more importantly—seldom used.

Motives and Cycles

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It’s important to realize that each social media comes with certain motives. Today it seems that the most popular social media networks, Instagram and Facebook, aren’t solely about sharing photos anymore. What’s highlighted most is the reaction to these photos; this is seen above, a screenshot of how the list of “likes” shows up on an Instagram post. Every follower can view this list, and there’s even a search bar at the top if you wanted to find a specific user who “liked” the photo. By having the number & list of “likes” easily accessible to all followers, Instagram highlights the reaction of the photo. This routine of sharing & reacting easily becomes exhaustive and overwhelming, which I have witness and experienced myself. If our goal, as users of social media, is solely to share aspects of our lives with others, than the infinite cycle of sharing and reacting isn’t necessary.

Universal Accessibility

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Ultimately, visual forms of social media are about the way in which you view the actual photos. Instagram leaves you with no option to see these pictures in any kind of large screen format. In order to access Instagram, one must create an account first. Right away you are encouraged to “get the app,” as seen at the top, which illustrates a different set of motives for this social media company. There is something different, perhaps lost, when we view photos from the condensed screens of our smartphones, which are designed for easy, on-the-go access. VSCO, as demonstrated at the bottom, does not require an account and can be accessed via a URL. This universal accessibility allows you to linger as you view the enlarged photos. It’s clear that newer companies, such as VSCO, realize the importance of this artistic appreciation. Perhaps the future of photo sharing will have a different set of motives than we are used to. Perhaps it will be the photos that are universally emphasized, rather than the external reaction they receive.

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