On June 1, Instagram put into effect changes in their API that have life more difficult for brands who manage content on their feeds and who often re-post user-created content.

Regrammed photo from @JohncarrolluI manage my University’s Instagram account, and have found apps like Repost to be very useful in my managing of our account. By tieing into the Instagram viewing API, I could easily see photos from students and campus groups we follow, or photos that have tagged us and then reshare them, with proper credit of course. This type of tool has made life easier for me to quickly and easily share content on our account.

Though announced late last year, Instagram has changed their API, especially their photo stream reading API, taking away access to the user’s photo stream. Since December, all apps accessing Instagram’s API must be approved and their access carefully reviewed. This is the recent update from Instagram:

Instagram Platform and documentation update. Apps created on or after Nov 17, 2015 will start in Sandbox Mode and function on newly updated API rate-limits and behaviors. Prior to going Live, and being able to be used by people other than the developers of the app, these apps will have to go through a new review process. Please read the API documentation or the Change Log for more details.

Any app created before Nov 17, 2015 will continue to function until June 1, 2016. On that date, the app will automatically be moved to Sandbox Mode if it wasn’t approved through the review process. The previous version of our documentation is still available here.

On one level, it makes sense: Instagram wants users browsing photos through their apps, not third-party apps. This way, Instagram can show users ads and integrate new features like the new, mostly disliked algorithmic feed. For the unscrupulous users, apps like Repost make it easy to steal and repurpose content, but that’s not the focus of this post.

Apps like Repost have had it difficult. If they are/were straight-up reposting apps like the one I used, they have had their access taken away or severely limited. Some have closed or pulled their apps, others have reworked their apps to still give some of the functionality they were offering, albeit nowhere near as easily as they did before. Gramfeed has pivoted to become Picodash, and will focus on the enterprise market.

Now, users must see a post they want to share in the Instagram app itself, select the sharing URL, and then open their reposting app, paste that URL into it, and then select the type of watermark they want to use. Then it saves the photo to the photostream and takes you back to Instagram to complete the posting process.

I feel this negatively affects smaller brands like ours who can’t afford the mega-enterprise tools some brands use to monitor, maintain, and share content to their fans. Tools like Repost were a nice workaround and made our lives just a little easier. I’ve written about the challenges of maintaining a brand on Instagram before, and changes like this continue to make the experience a frustrating one.

 

 

My friend Pat Canella, who works in the web department at Mercyhurst University and worked for me when he was a student at Allegheny College, posed this question via Twitter today. Should academic departments get their own subdomain web address? It’s a very interesting one.

If you’re a small school, I would say no.

Having worked at a small school, people from different departments were always very aware of what other departments were getting on the web from the marketing group. Our solution at the time was to say to departments: look, you can have your own site where you can do whatever you want and go into depth big time on your research, publishing and so on, but we in central marketing are going to keep a marketing version of your site, where all the departments will be shown to be equal and the same. This is also important for site visitors, who could go from department to department site and find consistent information in consistent places. We linked to their secondary site, if they had one, and that seemed to work pretty well.

At my current institution, we recently switched URL structures when we rolled out our new WordPress websites, so technically our department pages like at sites.jcu.edu/math. For marketing purposes though, we always create redirects to jcu.edu/math will always work and that looks better on marketing pieces and is easier to remember. Keeping a consistent URL structure is also a good UX thing to do. I think it’s important to be able to land at sites.jcu.edu/english and just change the end of the URL to /history and get to their site, not having to guess if its sites.jcu.edu/history or history.jcu.edu or historydepartment.jcu.edu. I’m not slighting our history department – they’re cool. My esteemed colleauge at both Allegheny and John Carroll, Josh Tysiachney, had this to say on this topic:

Which I agree with. Your school’s brand is usually better know than an individual department.

There’s always an exception to the case though – and this time it’s in regards to large institutions and/or named colleges within a large university. In many cases, those colleges within the university have large brand awareness on their own. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern’s URL is www.kellogg.northwestern.edu. The Wharton School of Business uses www.wharton.upenn.edu.

However, where Northwestern falls short a bit is that if I type in www.northwestern.edu/kellogg, I get a big nasty 404. Not even a formatted 404 page, the barebones Apache error page. That’s not helpful for users.

For fun, I tried the same thing at Penn, entering www.upenn.edu/wharton and got a 404 error page. At least it was prettier than Northwestern’s.

Easy fixes, but that’s simple stuff that could be fixed to make it easier for users.