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Why Instagram’s creatives are angry about its move to video | Instagram

Voice Of EU



In late July, hobbyist photographer and self-proclaimed “sunrise hunter” Sam Binding conducted an experiment. After visiting Somerset Lavender Farm to catch the sun peeking over the purple blossoms, the 40-year-old from Bristol uploaded the results to both Instagram and Twitter. Two days later, he used the apps’ built-in analytics tools to assess the impact of his shots. On Instagram, a total of 5,595 people saw his post – just over half of his 11,000 followers. On Twitter, his post was seen by 5,611 people, despite the fact he has just 333 followers on the site.

This confirmed Binding’s hunch that although most people believe that Instagram is a place to share photos and Twitter is a place to share words, that may no longer be the case. When it launched in 2010, Instagram courted the artistic community, inviting respected designers to be among its initial users and naming its very first filter X-Pro II, after an analogue photo-developing technique. In her 2020 book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, technology reporter Sarah Frier documents how Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wanted Instagram to be an outlet for artists (in a high-school essay, Systrom wrote that he liked how photography could “inspire others to look at the world in a new way”).

Adam Mosseri in 2019.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri: ‘The number one reason people say that they use Instagram is to be entertained.’ Photograph: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Wired

But Facebook bought Instagram in 2012. Systrom departed as CEO in 2018. And three weeks before Binding uploaded his lavender pics, the new head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, posted a video to his personal social media accounts. “I want to start by saying we’re no longer a photo-sharing app.”

Click on Instagram today and you will still see plenty of photos, but you’ll also be confronted with a carousel of short, vertical videos (known as “Reels”) as well as the more-than-occasional ad. In his video, Mosseri explained that “the number one reason people say that they use Instagram in research is to be entertained” and the app was going to “lean into that trend” by experimenting with video. Citing TikTok and YouTube as competition, Mosseri said Instagram would “embrace video” and users could expect a number of changes in the coming months.

The move has the artistic community seeing Pantone 032. Though there’s no way of knowing how many artists, architects and photographers have left the app, many are at least threatening to. Liverpool photographer and musician Reuben Wu tweeted “Ok thx bye Instagram!” on hearing the news (at the time of writing, he and his 264,000 followers remain on the app). Sara Tasker, an Instagram and creative business coach and author of Hashtag Authentic: Finding Creativity and Building a Community on Instagram and Beyond, says her inbox was “immediately flooded” with creatives “terrified that this meant they would be left behind”. The 37-year-old says video is time-consuming, has a steeper learning curve and can be a challenge for those who are self-conscious in front of the camera.

“The idea that they have to dance for their audience – literally – just to make sales or have their art seen is a kick in the teeth to those who have been sharing and connecting on these platforms for years,” says Tasker, who has more than 220,000 followers on her @me_and_orla account.

Sara Tasker
Sara Tasker: ‘The idea that they have to dance for their audience – literally – just to make sales or have their art seen is a kick in the teeth.’ Photograph: @me_and_orla/Instagram

Binding started sharing sunset photos on his account @sambinding around five years ago and he now sells pictures to those who message him on the site. But over the past year, Instagram has begun showing his posts to 30-50% fewer people and he’s consequently made fewer sales. (In November 2020, Instagram altered its layout to highlight Reels and its Shopping features.)

“I can see why everyone’s starting to panic about their accounts because you’re going from hitting 500 likes on a photo back down to 100,” Binding says. “I know a lot of photographers have taken breaks from using Instagram because they start thinking maybe their photos aren’t good enough.”

Artist and photographer Nick Waplington is also troubled by changes at Instagram, which he has used for 10 years. The 56-year-old has 18,000 followers on his @nickwaplington account, through which he regularly sells limited edition artworks and monographs. “I’m not going to start dancing around holding my photographs,” he says. “I’ll probably go back to using it as a personal account now.”

Like Binding, Waplington’s reach has recently decreased: “I used to put on 100-200 new followers every month and that’s ended,” he says. Also, like Binding, Waplington has been driven to experiment. He recently uploaded a photo of model Kendall Jenner that he lifted from the web. “It really went nuts. I got the most likes and the most reach that I’d ever had. They showed it to everyone.”

In 2020, the non-profit research organisation AlgorithmWatch conducted a similar experiment. In partnership with the European Data Journalism Network, it analysed 2,400 images and found that photos of women in underwear or bikinis were 54% more likely to appear on the Instagram news feed than other photos, while images of food and landscapes were 60% less likely to be shown. While the experiment was small, relying on the feeds of 26 volunteers, the researchers concluded that “refusing to show body parts dramatically curtails one’s audience” on Instagram. In a June 2021 blog post, Mosseri outlined how users can influence what they see by muting accounts or clicking “Not Interested” on particular posts.

Though Waplington isn’t going to delete the app, he finds the recent changes “demoralising”. “Do they really want someone like me to be posting pictures of celebrities downloaded from the internet to increase your reach instead of posting my art?” he says. A day after we speak in late July, he emails to say his latest post earned his “lowest ever reach and likes”.

Nick Waplington
Nick Waplington: ‘Do they really want someone like me to be posting pictures of celebrities downloaded from the internet to increase your reach instead of posting my art?’ Photograph: @nickwaplington/Instagram

Ironically, Mosseri started his announcement video by claiming that Instagram wants to empower creators to “make a living” on the site, but both Binding and Waplington have seen sales suffer. Perhaps this highlights the difference between “creators” and “creatives”. In April, writer and Washington University media professor Ian Bogost argued that “a creator is someone whose work is wholly circumscribed by a platform”. While creators make content that can only exist within a certain app, many creatives simply put their offline art online. To put it another way: Instagram’s creators can only exist on Instagram, Instagram’s creatives can go elsewhere.

“There seems to be a mass exodus to Twitter now,” Binding says. VSCO, a photo app reminiscent of early Instagram, is popular with Gen-Z and currently has around 40 million monthly users, meaning it’s well placed to attract Instagram migrants. Artists are also turning to social media sites such as Artfol, ArtStation and Bubblehouse, which are all specifically designed for creatives to showcase their work. This isn’t the first time Instagram has angered the artistic community – in 2019, American artist Betty Tompkins was temporarily blocked after she shared her explicit photorealist work Fuck Painting #1, leading hundreds of people and the galleries that host her work to complain to the site. (Instagram has a long-held reputation for censoring artistic nudity, which is ironic in light of AlgorithmWatch’s discovery of the bikini bias.)

Taaryn Brench is a 32-year-old illustrator and designer from Leeds who has recently turned to sites such as Designers of Colour to showcase her work. “In terms of getting your work seen on Instagram, it’s tanked a lot over the past couple of years. You hear people talking about fighting the algorithm but that’s a job in itself,” she says (she has around 3,000 followers on her account @taaryn_b). “I think we should as artists be looking elsewhere and not relying solely on Instagram.” She says people are moving back to their personal websites and blogs (Waplington resumed directly collecting fan and follower email addresses last year).

Still, Brench admits she feels “a bit chained” to Instagram and doesn’t want to completely quit the site because of the community there (she mentors young artists via the app). Waplington also values the community on the site. “I’ve been making art photography for a long time and you would go away for four or five years and exist in this vacuum while you made a new piece of work,” he says. “For a line of work where it’s very insular, suddenly you were able to talk to people on a daily basis.”

And yet, like many in the artistic community, Brench says Instagram has negatively affected her work – and her attitude to her work – over the years. “I drew some pictures of some cats and I’m not even a cat person whatsoever – I actually hate cats. But I posted it on Instagram and I knew it would do really well,” she says. The post did do well. “But then I thought, ‘That’s not me.’”

So, this time next year, will Instagram be solely a video and shopping app, full of dancing creators and celebrities flogging merchandise but devoid of artists and designers sharing their latest work? It’s likely that many artists will stay on the app and adapt – Binding, for one, says he doesn’t mind creating videos – and it’s possible that Instagram will change its stance. After all, Facebook has found, time and time again, that copying competitors isn’t a quick and easy path to success – last year, it shutdown it’s two-year-old TikTok clone Lasso, which never earned more than 80,000 daily active users on Android.

Taaryn Brench
Taaryn Brench: ‘You hear people talking about fighting the algorithm but that’s a job in itself.’ Photograph: @taaryn_b/Instagram

And, of course, video and art aren’t mutually exclusive – although cats may continue to reign supreme. At the moment, the most popular post tagged #artist on TikTok is a coloured pencil drawing of a kitten that has accumulated 14.5m likes.

Whatever happens next, it’s clear that Instagram isn’t the app it used to be. Instagram expert Tasker says it once nurtured creators with workshops, parties and even surprise gifts such as photobooks and calendars, which she says is no longer the case. Instagram employs people who curate content for its own official account so it arguably fosters talent in that way – its latest post highlights the work of trans activist and spoken word poet Kai-Isaiah Jamal.

In an emailed statement, a Facebook company spokesperson wrote: “We’re inspired by the millions of creatives using Instagram to express themselves, create businesses and communities every day. We began as a photo-sharing app and will always be a platform for visual storytelling, no matter its format.” They went on to say that Instagram users shape culture and the app is “constantly developing new formats and tools to help people express themselves”.

Tasker first found Instagram seven years ago when “lonely and lost” on maternity leave; she was delighted to be connected to others who “found beauty in the way the light shone on their kitchen table in the early dawn” and “spotted the same tangle of wildflowers in the pavement cracks that would catch my eye”. Now she fears Instagram execs are “sacrificing longevity and real human connection for happy shareholders and panicked, short-term gain”.

While she feels that creatives will remain on Instagram (“there isn’t anywhere else online right now that has the same range and depth of creatives in its daily active user base”), she misses the place it used to be. “Open the app now and you’re grabbed by flashy images, videos, dancing teenagers and curated performances tailored, algorithmically, to hotwire all of your brain’s most basic likes,” she says. “It’s entertaining, there’s no doubt, but it’s seldom mindful. I miss that morning routine of quiet, considered and consistent inspiration.”

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

Voice Of EU



To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon’s lava tubes • The Register

Voice Of EU



Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”

Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge. 

“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.

One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.

Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.

Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth. 

The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.

Robots and lava tubes

The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.

Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.

The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts. 

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”

The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas. 

If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.

Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.

And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®

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Here are the Royal Irish Academy’s newest members from STEM

Voice Of EU



14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.

Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.

This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).

Future Human

“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.

“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”

Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.

Linda Doyle, TCD

Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.

Geraldine Boylan, UCC

A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.

Mary Cannon, RCSI

Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.

Rónadh Cox, Williams College

One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.

Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council

Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.

Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway

A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.

Fiona Doohan, UCD

Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.

David Jones, QUB

A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.

Patricia Kearney, UCC

Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.

Mairead Kiely, UCC

Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.

Hannah McGee, RCSI

McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.

James P O’Gara, NUI Galway

A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.

Stefan Oscarson, UCD

Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.

Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD

Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.

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