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Personal social media | Real Users Club #4

Hello again! 👋 This week I've been talking to my friend Julia Clark about how she uses Instagram.
Personal social media | Real Users Club #4
By Real Users Club • Issue #4 • View online
Hello again! 👋
This week I’ve been talking to my friend Julia Clark about how she uses Instagram.

A photo of our interviewee, Julia, taken in Instagram
A photo of our interviewee, Julia, taken in Instagram
Hi Julia, thanks for taking part in Real Users Club! Can you introduce yourself?
“I am Julia Clark, I’m 29 years old, and I currently work in retail. I like spiders, and drawing+
things.”
What does a typical week look like for you?
“Work, house work, and mostly gaming and picture taking.”
The personal side of social media
Julia doesn’t really use Instagram to share photos with other people, instead it’s a way for her to capture things for herself. “I know a lot of people use it as a platform to show off, get followers, but I use it as a mental catalogue of instances and moments that are linked to how I was feeling, so I can go back through it and say ‘Oh, that was a time when something was happening’, learning from the past.” Preserving her artwork in Instagram also provides a source of encouragement for her drawing. “It’s nice when people tap a like, but usually I just upload my drawings so I can say 'Yeah, I liked this’, so next time I feel like I suck at drawing I can just go 'Well I put that one up here, I’m not so bad’. It’s a bit of personal therapy I guess.”
I found this really interesting, because I think a lot of social apps are designed heavily around sharing our content with other people, and consuming other people’s content, rather than as a way for us to catalogue our own experiences. Julia’s approach is that most photos don’t need to be private-by-default, and although Instagram is designed to be social, it works well for her as a personal tool to augment her memory.
Julia does follow a few people and uses Instagram also as a source of artistic inspiration for her drawings.
Some watercolouring Julia found through Instagram
Some watercolouring Julia found through Instagram
A defined purpose
“I don’t really message people on here because I find it a bit more difficult to use that way, I mostly use WhatsApp for messaging. I don’t use [Instagram] as a main messaging system, I have it in my head that it’s more for images.” Even though Instagram supports direct messaging, Julia doesn’t associate that activity with the app. Because she uses Instagram as a silo for documenting her emotions and finding artistic inspiration, she can take a different approach to notifications that come from the app. “If I get a message, more often than not I’ll ignore it because it’s not on WhatsApp, it’s not from someone I know personally.”
This touches on the ‘deeper’ parts of what user experience is: how do our users feel, what is our user’s mindset? When we design our products, we need to take care not to nudge our users too much. If we push features that don’t fit in to their established perspective and reason for using our product, we can damage the existing relationship they have with it. Allow users to find their own meaning in your products.
There’s also a restriction on how long a message can be, which further pushes Julia away from using Instagram as a messaging platform. “That’s one thing that does annoy me, the limit of how much you can type in, so you have to press enter. I like to have lengthy conversations, and it gets to the point where you have to send it and write another [message].”
Technical restrictions like this are particularly frustrating to users because they seem arbitrary: what is the reason for restricting how long my messages are? These restrictions further reinforce user perspectives of the purpose of our products. It’s possible that the message length limit was added because the designers of Instagram wanted to nudge their users away from direct messaging and towards posting photos, but a heavy-handed approach like this can leave users confused. Seek gentler ways to nudge your users into specific workflows.
One of Julia's drawings
One of Julia's drawings
On archiving
Julia likes how there is an option to archive posts. “If I post something I don’t like, I can delete it, or I can archive it, which just hides it, but it’s still there. So if I decided later on I wanted to bring it back, I can do that. I just archive things I get a bit embarrassed about. I could delete it but I always have that ‘what if I want that back?’ in my head.” As far as archiving a post, the feature is well designed. Users see the option 'archive’ next to the option 'delete’, and the name implies retrieval, so it’s fairly clear how this feature behaves.
Unfortunately it’s not obvious to Julia how to unarchive a post. “I don’t actually know how to bring them back, because I haven’t done that yet! It’s hidden from [me] as well, I don’t know which [posts] I have archived.”
There are a couple of ways we could change the UI to make this more effective. Instead of hiding the post from Julia, we could add an overlay or icon to indicate that it has been archived. Alternatively, when a post is archived we could display a modal explaining how to find archived posts and unarchive them. Features that hide things from users can be very helpful, but by their nature they need to provide more support to our users, because they can be so confusing.
On bookmarking
There are a couple of posts that Julia is particularly fond of and likes to revisit, and Julia has had to develop a workflow to support this. “You can look at your likes, but that does it in a timeline, so if you wanna go back and find something you liked three months ago you’re scrolling pretty far to try and find it. The best way is to just remember the name of the page and then search through for what you’re looking for.”
Some of Julia's likes in Instagram
Some of Julia's likes in Instagram
I wonder if other people have this problem. There are certain patterns and behaviours that we might expect to be universal across all apps, but because of the way they are developed features that seem standard are missing. Every major Web browser supports bookmarks and tabbed browsing, but native apps don’t support these features out-of-the-box, they have to be explicitly implemented, and they are often neglected as makers focus on the unique features of their software.
On ads
“They are a bit sneaky because you scroll down and you’re like ‘I don’t follow that person’ but it’s just an advert, because it comes up as if it were someone posting something.” Instagram inlines ads as if they were posts, but it’s not all bad. “It’s been helpful actually, it helped me find this ring company that makes skull rings – I quite like skulls –, and lots of companies that make watercolours.” Julia likes personalised ads, because they inform her about products that she would actually use. “I’m not really interested in ads that are arbitrary. I like ads that are more geared towards thing that I use, I like or I’m interested in.”
The new hotness is gone
Julia tells me that Instagram used to display the newest posts on the home screen. “There was a system on Instagram for finding smaller people. On the front page, it was chronological, whoever posted something just now it was there. When they removed that it’s something a lot of people got upset about.”
I feel it’s a shame that this feature was removed, because I like features that give exposure to new content and smaller creators. When we just rank content by 'most viewed’ or 'most liked’, we’re creating a feedback loop, where already popular content gets re-promoted and just becomes more popular. It can be very difficult for talented creators with smaller networks to break in to these bubbles. There is a lot of room for more innovation in how content is curated and circulated on social platforms.
The current Instagram home screen displays things 'for you', but doesn't tell you why they're suggested. Some graphic content has been blurred.
The current Instagram home screen displays things 'for you', but doesn't tell you why they're suggested. Some graphic content has been blurred.
Thanks for reading! 🙌
If you’d like to see more of Julia’s artwork, check out her Instagram @alice_wizird.
Do you have an interesting product to talk about and 30 minutes to spare? Hit reply and you could be featured in an issue of Real Users Club!
See you next time,
John
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