The rise of Web 2.0 and the phenomenon of social media has enabled new and local communities to thrive and stay connected through the presence of the internet. In the twenty-first century we are able to ‘share’ more than ever, and through the capabilities of Web 2.0, internet users have become both consumers and producers in our digital age. Technology is further embedded into our lives everyday and we rely on it heavily to maintain our relationships online (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). Web 2.0 birthed a complexity of social interaction and community that is arguably just as social as it is anti-social. However, as people and information moves freely through time and space, community tends to be less local, less tightly bounded and more diverse (Hampton & Wellman). Social networks have become the glue that bonds our social ties together, and in this essay I will argue how the social media powerhouse Instagram does just that. Instagram has more than a billion users and is a place where online and offline relationships merge. In this paper I will explore how Instagram fosters community, the nature and purpose of Instagram and its Web 2.0 features. Furthermore, I will consider how the app encourages the creation and maintenance of new communities. Specifically, I will argue that Instagram encourages new communities and allows localised communities to extend beyond the constraints of time and space.
How can we define community in the twenty-first century without the affordances of Web 2.0? Web 2.0 features have revolutionised community more than anything in the past two decades. Such features have allowed users to communicate online 24/7 with the assistance of internet access, faster broadband speeds and mobile devices. Most commonly conducted through social media platforms, they allow users to maintain online and offline relationships. Instagram is a perfect example of a social media platform that allows users known as networked individuals to engage in the participation of internet communication (Kendall, 2011). Instagram’s billion users and success, has revolutionised the way we communicate. Before Web 2.0 when somebody graduated high school, moved cities or left a workplace, their social ties, relationships and their participation in those communities were often lost. Today, the affordances of Web 2.0 features and platforms like Instagram foster and encourage the maintenance of such communities to continue online. Tama Leaver (2020) suggests that Instagram is best described as a conduit for communication in our diverse landscape of visual social media cultures. Instagram’s focus is the image or Instagram post, shared by users to a feed or ‘wall’ similar to that of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. However, Leaver (2020) believes Instagram is more than an app, platform and jewel in the Facebook family. Furthermore, Instagram is an icon and avatar for understanding and mapping social media culture (Leaver, 2020). Web 2.0’s capabilities and today’s version of what defines community share a unique relationship subject to popular debate. Online communities, if not originally established offline or “in real life” first, are subjugated to criticism of being illegitimate communities. However, many offline communities seek to enhance their communities through virtual interaction (Kendall, 2011). This may include following each other on Instagram or adding each other on Facebook, therefore the only difference between virtual communities and local communities is their offline or online origin. Yet, isn’t it so amazing that we can communicate with strangers online in the first place, 24/7 and form new communities that may not have been possible without the affordances of Web 2.0? Kendall (2011) argues that most online communities primarily exist with a want to meet one another face-to-face if possible. As an Instagram user this is in fact very real and dating apps are another aspect of Web 2.0 that encourage this ‘cross pollination’ between platforms that are unbounded and constantly overlap (Johnston, 2014). Application Program Interfaces (API’s) facilitate this ‘cross pollination’ and encourage users to communicate via multiple platforms online.
Instagram’s Web 2.0 features enable socialisation beyond the constraints of time and space. The nature and purpose of Instagram allows for social interactions to extend beyond previous generational issues. Since the rise of Web 2.0 users are able to access social media 24/7 with increasing internet speeds. Allowing users to communicate online whenever they want, enables them to participate in their communities constantly. Notifications allow us to further alert other users when we want to communicate or share something with them online. Instagram provides features such as ‘close friends’ allowing the user to create a list of followers who can access content that the entire following is not able to. Instagram has many features that offer both public and private access to followers, and even business and creator accounts. Delanty (2018) explores how technology has always played a significant role in the construction of human societies. He provides a similar argument that virtual communities are “enhanced by the opportunities offered for maintaining relationships that would no longer be possible for reasons of distance” (Delanty, 2018). Therefore, Web 2.0 features have given users the accessibility to create rules based on who can see the content they share online.
Not only does Instagram therefore have the ‘ability of reconnecting people who already know each other’ its nature and purpose is to maintain new and local communities and relationships (Delanty, 2018). Instagram arguably allows for the same intimacy that a traditional community can offer, the only difference is the virtual aspect. However, isn’t one of the best aspects of social media the idea that it brings people together in times when they cannot physically be ‘together’? We see this in cyber, online and virtual communities that foster new social groups which are polymorphous, highly personalised and lifestyle-oriented (Delanty, 2018). Instagram is a visual platform that encourages the influence of certain aesthetics, specifically fashion. The platform fosters sub-cultures and provides the opportunity of niche community members to create, discuss and explore new concepts. Delanty (2018) believed that virtual communities are no less real than traditional communities, and that their distinctive nature consists in their ability to make communication the essential feature of belonging. Who are we to judge if someone feels an intimacy online through their virtual communities? Who are we to judge if people engage more often in cyber-space then ‘in real life’? Is it not still real? What if their situation prevents them from physically meeting people, or their job prevents them from seeing their family and friends as much as they would like? Why can’t we celebrate the affordances of Web 2.0 and the revolution of social media rather than criticising its ‘realness’ all the time? Evidence points to the very real nature of the relationships and communities that are web based.
Instagram fosters new communities and encourages users to network. The app provides users the opportunity to maintain their relationships and communities as much as it encourages users to form new ones. In regard to networking, Kendall (2011) presents us with the concept of networked individualism. Networked individualism relies on the idea that an individual exists within many social networks. Through platforms such as Instagram people remain connected as individuals rather than being situated in the home bases of the work unit or household (Kendall, 2011). I discussed previously how API technologies and most social media applications encourage us to ‘cross-pollinate’ between each other (Johnston, 2014). This does not only occur on social media platforms. Spotify, a music app, encourages users to connect to their Facebook account just like Tinder, a dating app, encourages users to connect to their Instagram profile. Kendall (2011) discusses how individuals ‘switch rapidly between their social networks’ which leads the ‘networks to thus create the nodes’. Regardless of the time zone, your Instagram friend who lives in America whilst you live in Australia may be asleep when you post that new selfie. However, when they wake up they will see that on their feed since they follow you and give you a like or comment if you are lucky. Instagram does this so well by encouraging us to follow new people, the app encourages you to follow your friends-friends, and their friends-friends, and so on. Recently Instagram added a new feature, which like Facebook, allows users to see which of their followers follows someone else when you visit their profile. You could call this ‘mutual followers’, which highlights a common connection or relation you may share with another user, i.e., a friend. Leaver (2020) explores how young people from different regions are “likely to develop their own, specific, often niche uses via Instagram”. We as humans love to interact, therefore participating in social media like Instagram gives us a satisfaction or fulfilment that we may not be able to achieve so instantly in real life. Johnston (2014) believes we as humans are ‘social animals,’ ‘embedded in complex webs of relationships, existing simultaneously within multiple communities whose boundaries are ill defined, shifting and flexible’. It is arguably the reality for most people in developed nations, that many of these shifting communities exist online, since we rely so heavily on the affordances of technology to assist in our everyday lives. Communication technology is the foundation of most of our work environments, businesses and educational institutions. We can do almost anything from our smart phones, including checking what is in our fridge. Nevertheless, we can see how since the rise of Web 2.0 our essence of what it means to be apart of a community and what defines a community ‘was not necessarily lost or saved’ (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). According to Kendall (2011) community ‘evokes empathy, affection, support, interdependence, consensus and shared values’. Therefore, if there are communities that rely on Instagram to foster and maintain their bonds, how is that any different to offline communities that rely on other factors to maintain themselves? Like regular meet ups, or phone calls? If online communities are able to produce all of the following stated by Kendall (2011), what makes them lesser or less socially acceptable than offline communities?
Instagram is a revolutionary social media platform that celebrates visual culture and a visual space for networked individuals to participate. It allows for these networked individuals to socialise beyond the constraints of time and space. Instagram fosters both new and local communities that were created either offline or online originally. Giving users the opportunity to form communities that would not have been able to be created without such platforms capabilities to exclude constraints of time and space. Social media and the affordances of Web 2.0 have given users the opportunity to maintain relationships and their essence of community after traditional social ties are lost. Web 2.0 communication technologies celebrate mobility, 24/7 access and most importantly, togetherness. Although their ‘realness’ is often criticised, and there are some issues surrounding socialising only online or the lack thereof of socialising offline, people can take advantage and seek opportunities to expand their networks through social networks such as Instagram.
Delanty, G. (2018). Virtual community: belonging as communication [Ebook] (3rd ed., pp. 200-224). Routledge. Retrieved 1 April 2020, from https://www-taylorfrancis-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/books/9781315158259.
Gruzd, A., Wellman, B., & Takhteyev, Y. (2011). Imagining Twitter as an Imagined Community. American Behavioural Scientist, 55(10), 1294-1318. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764211409378
Hampton, K. (2015). Persistent and Pervasive Community. American Behavioural Scientist, 60(1), 101-124. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764215601714
Hampton, K., & Wellman, B. (2018). Lost and Saved . . . Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of Community Takes Hold of Social Media. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal Of Reviews, 47(6), 643-651. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094306118805415
Johnston, A. (2014). Community and Social Media [Ebook] (pp. 18-29). Routledge. Retrieved 1 April 2020, from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/detail.action?docID=1524159.
Kendall, L. (2011). Community and the Internet [Ebook] (pp. 309-325). Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Retrieved 13 March 2020, from https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/doi/book/10.1002/9781444314861.
Tama, L. (2020). Instagram : Visual Social Media Cultures [Ebook] (pp. 1-161). Polity. Retrieved 1 April 2020, from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/detail.action?docID=6027966.