Remember when Instagram was the fun, simple, non-toxic social network? I suppose it still is in some way, but only in comparison to the slavering hellmouth of Twitter and the democracy-poisoning Borg-cube that is Facebook. Judged on its own merits, I’d argue Instagram–which, in its mere eight years of operation, has spawned a pond-scum ecosystem of paid “influencers,” skewed the mental health of scores of teenagers, and made “Stories” a thing we all have to deal with–is a net-negative for humanity, too. Don’t you wish you could return to those just-a-feed-of-pretty-pictures days?
Thanks to a web app called Filtergram, now you can. It bills its self as being “for people who want to see some Instagram content, but aren’t too keen on the Instagram Experience itself.” Um, did it read my mind?
Filtergram is what anti-social social-network users like me call “read-only”: You can’t post, comment, or like, you can only follow. Everyone else’s comments are scrubbed out, too, as are ads and Stories. The interface design is minimal and stylish; the feed is chronological, the way God intended; you can even type in hashtags to filter out posts you don’t care about (like, say, anything #blessed). And you don’t even have to have an Instagram account in order to use it.
Ben Howdle, the 29-year-old software engineer behind Filtergram, made the app on a request from his wife.
“Earlier this year she began training to become a personal trainer, and she asked me if there was a way to create an app that could filter Instagram posts intelligently—like, ‘I’d like to see someone’s workout, but somehow avoid their beach selfie,'” Howdle says.
At first, he didn’t think it was feasible. “She reluctantly created a private Instagram account and followed a few people relevant to her studying, and was immediately hit with all the social media annoyances,” Howdle says.
Howdle took a closer look, and decided that his wife’s request was actually doable without resorting to, as he puts it, “heavy machine-learning tech.” (He achieved the smart-filtering functionality by simply outsourcing it to users: type in a hashtag, and nothing with that metadata will appear in your feed.)
“From the initial response, it seems that other people have had similar wants: to browse some Instagram content, but not be forced into giving their information to Facebook or Instagram,” he says.
Granted, you could just Google any Instagram account you like in order to view the posts. But if you’re interested in browsing more than one account at a time–basically, having a social feed without actually being social about it–then Filtergram gives you a one-stop solution. Besides, Instagram makes the experience of browsing feeds on the web without an account intentionally terrible. “One-fifth of the content is covered by a login/sign-up banner,” Howdle says. “Also: comments. Nope. Filtergram is completely devoid of any sort of community. It’s the posts and captions. That’s all.”
If Howdle’s attitude toward social media sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino, you’re not wrong. “I hate it all,” he obliges. “However, it’s frustratingly useful.” Truer words never spoken: Whether it’s for work or simply to keep up with geographically distant friends and family, Instagram and its unholy ilk can maintain a hold over many people who might otherwise delete their accounts. For those users under duress, Filtergram offers a perfect escape hatch. (I deleted my Instagram years ago, but if I still had an account, I’d happily ditch it now.)
That said, as a software engineer himself, Howdle maintains a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” attitude toward Instagram. “I don’t believe they’re doing anything different to most other companies [by] continually expanding their software,” he says. Furthermore, “most prolific Instagram users actually do want these social features. I’ll just continue my pattern of building alternative experiences to popular social media platforms, like the anti-social curmudgeon I am.”
And this fellow curmudgeon says: God bless him for it.