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Proof That Our Instagrams Are All The Same

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Cities aren’t just physical. They also have digital selves, composed of all the thousands of photos people take of famous landmarks, their favorite coffee shop, and their night out at the club. A dazzling new data visualization called Multiplicity maps these photos, dredged from Instagram, based on just how similar they are. It’s a stark reminder: None of us are really that original. In fact, thousands of other people have probably taken the exact same artsy shot of a cappuccino you just posted.

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The interactive, created by the researcher and data viz artist Moritz Stefaner for the Paris data viz exhibition 123 Data, is a giant web of Instagram photos taken in Paris and grouped into nearly identical sets with help from AI. To create Multiplicity, Stefaner chose 25,000 Instagram photos from the 6.2 million images geo-tagged in the city. He then used a neural network to look for patterns among the photos, analyzing and mapping them based on visual similarity. The process created a giant image cloud that highlights the largest trends when you’re all the way zoomed out, and then crystallizes into individual photos as you zoom in.

The images are often strikingly similar. There are dozens of nearly identical Instagrams of a Parisian Ferris wheel and a famous Monet painting inside the Orangerie museum (where coincidentally, no photos are allowed). Even the photos people take of themselves and their friends in the city’s nightclubs, or the shots of people showing off their arm tattoos, are eerily similar. There’s an unlikely charm to watching the photos blend into each other since Stefaner’s algorithm sorted the images based on visual similarities. For instance, there’s a whole section on macarons and chocolates–located right next to images of skulls from the catacombs.

Multiplicity reveals our penchant for documenting the same things, again and again, but a second look highlights the slight variations in each image. In one section that Stefaner dubs the “crazy pose cluster,” photos are similar not in their specific subject, but in the dynamic gestures of dancers, yogis, and people with a penchant for manipulating their bodies in wild ways. Multiplicity shows Paris–and Instagram, for that matter–in all its stereotypes, but also its joyful moments of individual expression.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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