Like a surprising number of people I have a pseudo-stalker on Instagram. Not in a creepy way – just someone who likes absolutely everything I post regardless of content, but who I have no other connection with and have had no other contact with. No comments are left, no contact on Twitter or other platforms. Just a consistent heart for every photo or video I post. It’s weird, but also oddly reassuring.
Mine is a young lady, late teens, maybe early 20s, and I followed her back, of course. Mostly it’s mundane stuff but, like the young ladies who run the rabbit accounts our bunnies follow, she occasionally gives an insight into how people are hacking the Instagram system to make it work better for them. Today I came across a fascinating new hack.
Above each photo on Instagram is the name of the poster and, optionally, the location where the photo was taken. This is set by either choosing a location from a database of places, or the user can create a new location if it’s not already there. It’s a messy system with lots of duplicates but it allows for a very granular level of specificity.
This granularity has been taken to a new level by combining it with content tagging. My stalker has started using the location field to describe what she’s doing, naming the location after the activity taking place, even if that act is simply posting a photo which has nothing to do with that location. I posted a photo while I was standing here, and this is what it’s about.
It brings into question the whole notion of naming places. We name a place as a way of sharing a specific location amongst a community. If everyone knows that a location is called “Sparrow Hill” then we can arrange to meet there and we can tell stories and associate memories with that location which can be shared and merged through the community.
But on a digital platform like Instagram the name of the location is pretty irrelevant as it’s also stored as co-ordinates which enable it to associate photos across the entire network with a place regardless of any shared naming strategies. (Admittedly Instagram doesn’t expose this information to the users, but that’s not the point – they could if they wanted to (and probably do to their advertisers.))
What my stalker is doing, then, is keeping the co-ordinate system for the photo for some reason I can only speculate, but abandoning, or co-opting the naming system for her own arbitrary use, and in doing so polluting the already muddy place-name database. I suspect she’s doing this primarily because the place name is displayed in a prominent place which she doesn’t feel it deserves, but the side effect of using something so historically powerful as The Naming Of Places is deliciously fascinating to me.