A browser extension that hides all the metrics on Instagram
Instagram, like other social networks, is full of numbers. These numbers, or metrics, measure and present our social value and activity online, enumerating likes, followers, views, and more. But what are the effects of these numbers on who we follow, what we post, what we delete, or how we feel when we use the site? Inviting us to consider these questions through our own experience, Instagram Demetricator is a web browser extension that hides the metrics. Follower, like, and comment counts disappear. Search result metrics such as “2,344,212 posts” becomes, simply, “posts.” Through changes like these, Demetricator lets us try out Instagram without the numbers, to see what happens when we can no longer judge ourselves and others in metric terms. With this work, I aim to disrupt our obsession with social media metrics, to reveal how they guide our behavior, and to ask who most benefits from a system that quantifies our public interactions online.
Why Focus on Metrics?
Simply put, the presence of visible metrics within social media interfaces has dramatic effects on how we think and act. They guide our behavior, changing what we write, what we delete, who we friend, or who we follow. Metrics make us feel more compulsive, competitive, and anxious, and compel us to produce ever more content for the system in the hopes of achieving future metric success.
I have written much about the reasons why metrics have such effects on us as part of my larger projects Facebook Demetricator and Twitter Demetricator. Further, I theorized about the reasons why in my article What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction on Facebook, where I also collected and analyzed feedback from Demetricator users. To avoid repeating those discussions here, I’d direct you to those projects, with their accompanying text and videos, as well as to some of the media articles I have linked below.
What About a Demetricated Instagram App?
The question many of you will have is how you can experience a fully-featured mobile Instagram without metrics? In other words, what about a demetricated Instagram app? The short answer is that this isn’t possible (unless Facebook removes the metrics for us). To provide a demetricated mobile Instagram (in a way that people would use it) I’d have to essentially recreate their app while removing the metrics. But the Instagram API Terms of Service (ToS) prohibits “replicating the core experience of the Instagram app.” That means an app is out.
So what about making my extension available on, say, the iPhone so that we could at least try out a demetricated browser-based Instagram on our phones? Sorry, that’s not available either. Apple prohibits browser extensions like Demetricator from working on mobile.
Because of these platform limitations, I have long resisted the increasing numbers of requests I get to release an Instagram Demetricator. This is because the web-based Instagram is a vastly inferior and limited experience compared to the mobile app, and I doubted a browser-based Demetricator would get much use. In fact, I would argue that browser extensions like Demetricator could be one reason why Facebook has never built a fully-featured web version of Instagram—because they don’t want people like me proposing alternatives that might, in even the smallest way, alter their highly tuned (and profitable) user experience.
Regardless, the truth is that I had already mocked up a Demetricator for the web-based Instagram a while back, just to see it for myself. I never built it out into something I could release. But because their web version is so limited, it wasn’t too much work to create (nothing like the insanity it can be to demetricate Facebook!). Recently, the pace of requests to demetricate Instagram have picked up (perhaps in response to new information about Russian disinformation campaigns infiltrating not just Facebook and Twitter, but also Instagram?). Most recently, it was the persistent emails from London O’Connor that finally prodded me to finish up what I already had and put it out in the wild. I should also credit Elena Rossini for perhaps holding out hope the longest.
So even though the web-based Instagram is limited and likely gets little use, I encourage you to try this work out anyway. See how it changes your experience of the site. If you have any reflections, I’d be interested to hear about it.
Can I Upload Photos with the Web-Based Instagram?
Yes, this is possible, though the editing functions are limited. You’ll need a user agent switching extension to make your browser look like it’s, say, running on an iPhone. Once you make that change, visits to Instagram.com will present their mobile web interface, which includes rudimentary photo upload and filter features. Instagram Demetricator works with both the desktop and mobile web versions.
- The New Yorker: Escaping Twitter’s Self-Consciousness Machine
- Slate: Stop Tweeting By the Numbers
- CBC Radio: Beyond the tyranny of likes and retweets: social media beyond the numbers
- The Washington Post: The (one) simple thing fueling your social media addiction
- The Atlantic: How Numbers on Facebook Change Behavior
- Slate: Those Red Facebook Notifications Are What’s Driving Your Addiction