Last updated on May 27th, 2023
Instagram’s recent changes have brought a lot of grumbling and criticism. The Meta-owned social network had planned on changes emphasizing random material from accounts one doesn’t follow. While Meta is supposedly walking back some of the changes, it’s still clear that Instagram shares many of the faults of its sibling, Facebook.
Meta also seems to be afraid of TikTok’s popularity. Thus, they’re bent on trying to make Instagram a TikTok clone, keeping with Facebook’s general tactic of buying or copying any potential rivals. (Never mind three of the top five social apps are owned by Meta: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.) Thus, Meta is basically trying to make Instagram pivot to video; of course, we all recall how well that worked out the last time it was tried.
On a side note, TikTok (despite having its own flaws) has managed to do what Google+, Ello, and Mastodon couldn’t: actually lure people away from Facebook/Instagram?
However, Instagram’s core appeal is photography, not video. Also, users want to see photos from those they’re following, not what an algorithm decides. If nobody’s able to see what you’re posting, what’s the point of using Instagram?
While I don’t see Instagram going away anytime soon (short of an asteroid hitting Meta’s headquarters), some people are pondering Instagram alternatives. Instagram has plenty of flaws: the algorithms; the user-unfriendly changes; the inability to add external links (beyond a single bio link); and so on.
Below, I’ve listed some of the best Instagram alternatives I could think of or find. I also tried to avoid ones with direct or heavy ties to NFTs, so sites like 500px are eliminated off the bat. Finally, the list is aimed at services that mainly let you publicly post photos. If you just want to store or backup photos, I’d go with Google Photos, Apple iCloud, or a third-party cloud storage service (plus local backups).
Flickr: For photographers willing to pay
The popularity of Flickr has fallen off over the years. That’s thanks to a mix of taking too long to pay attention to mobile devices, the rise of Instagram, and Flickr greatly cutting back on its free tier features. Flickr’s free tier is limited to 1,000 photos, making its usefulness for non-paying users limited. However, for photographers that don’t mind paying for the Flickr Pro tier, Flickr is still a decent option, offering numerous features.
Grainery: For film photo enthusiasts
Grainery is a new photo sharing service designed much like Instagram’s older layout. However, it’s aimed at film photography enthusiasts. Users are required to note the type of film, camera, and lens used when posting photos. (I assume users are scanning and uploading printed photos using a scanner?)
While a niche site, it might be useful for film enthusiasts. Comic creator Greg Pak is a user of Grainery.
Pixelfed: A federated (and free) Instagram alternative
Pixelfed’s become a popular federated Instagram alternative, similar to the Twitter alternative Mastodon. In fact, since they’re both federated apps, you can follow a Pixelfed account from Mastodon, and vice versa.
Pixelfed works similarly to Mastodon: pick an “instance” (similar to picking an email service like Gmail or Outlook), sign up for an account, and start using it to post photos. The interface is similar to the old-school Instagram, but without ads or algorithms.
I’ve used Pixelfed before, and it was pretty nice. The only downsides are making sure to pick a popular instance (an obscure one might be more likely to go down, taking users’ photos with it), and the lack of mobile apps. That said, pixelfed.social is the most popular, and main, instance. I’d advise signing up for that one, or the second most-popular instance as of this writing, pixelfed.de.
The lack of apps also holds Pixelfed back from taking off. While it’s good that Pixelfed is web-based, unfortunately the average internet user doesn’t care about open standards, federated services, etc.; they expect an app if they’re on their phones. No app, and Pixelfed may as well not exist. (“Web apps” aren’t a thing for the average person.) Convenience (which Instagram as the status quo provides) will always win out. It needs to literally be as simple as “install an app, sign up for an account (with zero friction beyond asking for an email address, password, and maybe a user name), and start posting cat photos/vacation pictures/etc.”
Fortunately, apps for Android (“PixelDroid”) and iOS are in development. The Mastodon app (which is available on Android and iOS) can also be used to follow or post to Pixelfed accounts.
I’ve opened a new Pixelfed page to try the service out again. On my phone, I saved it as a web app; it seems to work OK as a pseudo-app, although an actual app will be much nicer.
Twitter: A non-Meta-owned social network
Twitter has its own problems, but it also has the advantage of being an established, mainstream service that’s free. The social network offers some photo posting features, including alternative text and posting up to four photos per tweet.
That said, photography isn’t Twitter’s primary purpose (it’s text), so it doesn’t have as many features as a more dedicated photo sharing site. It’s also easy to see photos buried under a pile of other tweets.
A blog (Tumblr, WordPress): Have your own photo platform
Finally, there’s simply starting a photo blog, or a photo category on an existing blog. Tumblr, WordPress, and others all provide excellent support for displaying and posting photos. There’s also the advantage that you aren’t at the whim of some billionaire (like with Facebook, Instagram, or (possibly) Twitter), and you can own your own platform. Visitors can also add comments or share links to the photos elsewhere.
One big downside is that discoverability might depend on promoting your own blog to others. There’s also that you’re running a blog, which might require a bit more work depending on the platform.
Overall, no Instagram alternative will provide the exact same features as Instagram. However, those looking to flee from Instagram do have some alternatives available.