Instagram Is a Gateway Drug for Storytellers

Focusing on content.

That’s the value of long-form, and it is core to the next wave of products already hitting the streets.

But long-form publishing platforms deliver a fix that lasts beyond 1 image, 2 taps and a 30-second high.

Instagram’s simplicity is incredibly addictive. I look forward to getting my double-tappin’ fix. So do others — nearly half of all IG users use it multiple times every day. Posting and experiencing content on the platform is a high we crave and satisfy.

I’ve been in the Insta-game since ’10 and although I will not stop posting and discovering on IG anytime soon, I make a point to fiend outside the square, too.

Sure, Instagram recently updated their web experience and added search by location with a revamped explore section for trending photos but our love for photography, video and driving a narrative has spawned an entirely new category of product type — long-form, mobile publishing platforms.

Industry leaders see the shift toward the long-form

In the 2015 Photography Annual of Communications Arts, Lisa Lytton, Creative Director of ScrollMotion and previously Director of Digital Storytelling at National Geographic Society, had a powerful quote in the Editor’s Column.

“The photographers who will win are going to be very strong hustlers working all the angles and supplying assets for every media outlet… they have to not only shoot stills, but also gather audio clips and field video and know how to package it. These makers won’t wait for permission or commissions. They will make their own work and produce it in interesting, new ways.” — Lisa Lytton

Other than valuing Lytton’s words as a juror of the CA Photography Annual, I felt a sense of ecstasy. The quote validated a perspective on the rise of long-form storytelling that I’d felt for some time. IMO, “creatives” could easily replace “photographers”.

Visual storytellers can’t resist

There are plenty of platforms out there. How does one choose? Which platforms are the drug of choice for those searching for a bigger rush than IG’s double-tap when publishing visual content? Here’s thoughts on three that are worth highlighting:

  • Exposure seems to have gone with a direct message of “do something meaningful with your photos” with a beautifully designed narrative that works as well for creative professionals and brands as it does amateur photographers and storytellers. However, Exposure limits its offering to photography (when we all know video is like the return of quaaludes to users) and desktop publishing only.
  • Storehouse has gone straight for it. No desktop publishing, only mobile (iPad and iPhone app) and the media types are practically endless. There’s also a responsive web experience that originally won me over on the platform.
  • Graft is looking to hit the next generation of this booming publishing market by adding an open source layer in to the mix of media we publish. Graft is also looking to fund development of an Android app on Kickstarter, which will finally bring a storytelling platform to that massively underserved Android community of users who are just as capable of producing compelling stories and content.

Shelf-life is value

In an illuminating, recent article, David Walker writing for Photo District News asks Are Visual Storytelling Platforms a Good Thing for Photographers?

Walker addresses in detail what I’ve been feeling the past few years. He quizzes photographer Ben Horton, about long-form publishing. Horton says using Storehouse “is a fancy way to send a portfolio” to prospective clients and “to help magazines I work with keep up to date on what I’m doing.”

“With Instagram, you post a picture and it has a lifespan of 30 seconds,” — Ben Horton

Unlike the constant hustle of Instagram, Ben Horton also explains that platforms like Storehouse demand less time constantly posting because “stories on the site have a shelf life, and attract views and shares over time.”

No code. No design. No problem.

Storytellers and creatives are creating loads of content at a faster pace than ever before. It is difficult enough to capture a compelling story, build an interesting narrative, author the content creatively, simply to dump it onto an outdated personal portfolio experience that lacks a modern, mobile viewing experience.

The mechanism of delivery is just as important as the content so creators are learning to scale their time. Pick a platform, any platform and there’s likely an entire startup team of developers and designers in San Francisco itching to deliver your content in cutting edge fashion.

WordPress, Virb or SquareSpace are all great content management systems for just about anything but without a social component and top-talent dev/design staff hustling to keep current with everyone’s expectations and behaviors, you might as well put it all on MySpace.

It seems there’s two options suddenly upon us:

  1. Spend endless hours working on a personal website experience (without a budget) that will ultimately start behind the most modern UIs that visitors will expect. Try to stay up on how users are experiencing content and you’re competing with Snapchat … good luck.
  2. Make the jump. Test a multitude of publishing platforms that provide a socially engaged community, slick modern design that’s updated constantly, a CMS and cutting edge UX in return for your content and passion for the community at large.

The choice isn’t really a choice. Move with the times; choose #2.

And we’re back to simplicity

As our minds open up to new ways of capturing content and driving a richer narrative, many will find themselves looking for the next big fix. Regardless of your position on these platforms, creating or publishing content, we’ve learned from our addiction to Instagram that simplicity is key.

Double tapping, slapping on a filter and watching the likes roll in might feel euphoric and simpler than adding a mix of media and text but long-form publishing platforms are providing creators, storytellers and general users with the tools to make our lives easier so we can simply focus on the content.

Focusing on content. That’s the value of long-form, and it is core to the next wave of products already hitting the streets.