cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Steve-h

I might now go as far to say I “love” my iPhone, but it must be my most regularly used piece of technology. But my first love was, and will be, the web- that bit that works because Sir Tim made it so that we can always

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Niro

View Source… is the most overlooked element of the open web.

Tonight, I was jarred to this by an accidental discovery- that in the land of mobile apps, you are subject to the whims of parts you will never see. Here is how it goes.

A few days ago, through a chance twitter mention, I got to speak via Skype to some students of Helen Keegan over in the UK. IN browsing my feed tonight in the Instagram app, I came across a photo she had posted that featured me on their classroom screen.

Hmmmm,. I’d like to use that image in a blog post.


There is no public URL provided for the instragram image, although it does post one to social media sites. I poked all over the interface, and could find not not way to share someone else’s photos.

What to do?

Bitch via twitter!

From here a string of responses from @timmmmyboy and @savasavasava

What we see is that in the iOS5, you get extra features- you can tweet and instragram.

Wow, you can tweet it, the app posts a URL for the image, but does not reveal they URL to the user.

In fact if you go about on the web site on a computer, there is no access at all to the images. Why is it hidden?

Well, it turns out you cna use a third party site,, where eventually I did find the image I sought:

which provides… get ready… a link to the original om the instragram site

They have the URLs but do not release them. WTF?

So again, Instagram has all their photos linked, URLs are available via APIs, but not shared with users of the app.

Yeah, it is their perogative, it is a free app.

But is a stupid design. The only in app “sharing” they offer for other people’s photos is liking and commenting, and if you have the newer iOS, tweeting.

I can shrug this off. But I am concerned, and a bit pissed off, that we glibly accept the limits of what apps do not give to us, they very thing that makes the we magic for me.

Give me any web page, and I have access to look under the hood and see what it does. If apps were like that, I might be able to pull the sheet back enough to see where it has the URL of an Instagram image.

But apps are not, and likely will never be. They are nailed closed.

And thus, the web will alway be my focus. I doubt I will spend time learning to build apps because… well I am not interested in being part of a closed box environment.

The beuaty of the web is that its underside is open, the very reason I grokked into HTML in the first place.

The web will always trump an app to me.

And I am done using Instagram. You can put that in your nailed up box and smoke it.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ben Sutherland

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I noticed the first few times I saw Instagram links via twitter and hence never used Instagram. Thanks for blogging it. I figured I was fighting a lost cause, just like my dislike of Facebook.

  2. In a way though, this behaviour is partly what has made Instagram so fun and popular. It’s primarily a photo app where the onus is on quick and easy, and disposable, rather than a fully-formed photo sharing website.

    The sharing part of it is something that’s emerged as a result of its popularity, so it makes sense to me that it’s an as-yet crude aspect.

    I must admit that it did seem odd to not be able to look through my stuff on the web, but I think they would argue that that’s what the app is for. It’s a bit of a walled garden, but the only way to really see what’s going on inside is to take part, and that’s part of the fun.

    1. I get that the simplicity is a key to Instagram and in my talks about photography as a “lens” into informal learning, I use this very notion cited at

      Yet I do not see this changing at all by adding a simple “Copy URL” button where the new “Tweet” one is.

      I get the fun, and likely my self prohibition wont last (I enjoy your train pics BTW), but to me there is a larger issue to ponder lurking below the glow of fun apps. They are boxes and we are putting ourselves happily inside them.

  3. “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes …”
    from “Synchronicity II” (1983), The Police

    Yeah, an interesting dilemma. I recall we had had a brief conversation about our use of Instragram when we visited back in August. Graham’s descriptors “quick” and “easy” do closely parallel my use of it.

    I also agree with Graham’s use of the word “throwaway,” although I do wish Instagram would do something to address that. It would be nice to browse a given user’s photos via the web, in galleries, as provided by sites like Flickr. While there are overlaps in folks I follow on Flickr and Instagram, the communities are different. But it would be useful to have full web access, embedding, etc.

    I do, at times, choose to go with an Instagram of a subject, rather than use my DSLR. Maybe I only have my phone and not my camera (rare). But more likely, I think I like the built-in filters within Instagram that allow one to emphasize a mood that might be present at the instant that the photo is taken — something that can be lost if you have to wait to get back to a computer to process?

    So yeah, that, and the community.

  4. It’s possible to host your own ephemeral media, and you get to control links, image sizes, metadata, comments, etc… The silos are attractive because they’re so fracking easy, but with just a little additional effort (surprisingly little, in many ways) you can run your own stuff without relying on the design/marketing whims of anyone else.

  5. I know what you mean though, it would be very nice to share things a lot easier to a wider audience. Myself, I always send everything to Filckr as well, and I use those urls rather than the Instagram ones. If there wasn’t a way of sending images to Flickr as well as internally then I doubt I would have used it for so long.

    (Thanks re. those train pictures of mine. I always worry that I’m boring the pants off everyone with them ;) )

  6. I go back and forth on it. Right now I like it, but I’m a fan of ephemera. To me, it reminds me of school desk drawings. I remember the thrill of sliding into my school desk to see someone had left a drawing, or a message. I’d add a comment, or a drawing, knowing the next person could erase it. I liked trying to imagine the reaction of the next person to see my stolen moment, when I ought to have been listening in class. Often times I check into instagram when I should be paying attention in a meeting, or doing something more grown-up. I even like the “like” button. To me, it just lets me know someone saw something I did. My sharing was part of someone else’s moment. I don’t need to own it, or preserve it. I could always change my mind, though.

  7. Let’s remember what Instagram is to begin with, a service that only works on the Iphone and iPod Touch (and I suppose if you wanted to look a bit like a tool you could use it on an iPad). No web interface at all, no application that anyone without an iOS device can use. It’s a community that has been walled from the start. Yes, the pictures have a site they live on and in the past year they opened up the API a bit so other services could get to those images, but their intent has been clear from the start. But let’s not lump all mobile apps in the same boat. Reading this post on Reeder I had the option of sending it to one of over 20 different services. Not quite the “welded box” you describe.

    Comparisons between native apps and the “open” web are rarely helpful when talking about mobile devices. The ecosystem is different. Both have their place. Users prefer native apps for obvious reasons of performance and functionality. HTML5 will not fix this (maybe HTML 6 or 7, but I doubt it). I’m glad that Apple put a ton of effort into making Mobile Safari as standards-compliant as possible. It’s bar-none the best web browser on a mobile device (coming from someone who struggled with Android for 2 years before finally getting a 4S). But they tried the “web apps are great and the future” bit and no one bought it. I guess native apps are “closed” in the sense my microwave or refrigerator is “closed” but that’s ok with me. I don’t need to view the source of my appliances, same goes for my phone.

  8. Timmmmyboy, “Tell me again about my apps….”

    Yeah, I get it. I dont want/expect my iAppliance to be the same as the web. I used the same argument about open devices before so it’s fair to have it pushed back at me.

    Even with your 20 share options, it is the ones they give you. I just have a hard time with the fact that my appliance knows the URL for media it displays but keeps that info from me.

    You dog with your fancy 4S!!!!!

    1. “Even with your 20 share options, it is the ones they give you.”

      Yeah, but one of those options is “Copy Link”. I don’t know how much more granular they could get. :) Tell me again about my iPhone! *bats lashes*

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