New Visual Data Map Proves That Your Instagram Isn’t Special

A data visualization map reveals that Instagram is home to thousands of similar snaps

The next time you post an artsy snap of your cappuccino on Instagram, you might wonder how many times has someone else sat in the very spot you’re sitting, took the exact same photo of a cappuccino, and posted it on social media. Turns out that the answer is countless times. All these similar photos may primarily be a stark reminder that none of us are as original as we think. But, more interestingly, they also piece together a city’s digital identity. From the hundreds of similar snaps of a single landmark, to thousands of cappuccinos and dishes posted by foodies visiting the same cafe, we can get to know and map a city through the innumerable social media posts that all look the same.

Paris makes a great example. Who goes to the French capital without posting those Instagram-worthy moments? The famous city was the subject of an interactive installation called Multiplicity by researcher and data visualization artist Moritz Stefaner for the 123 Data exhibition. Using AI, the project scoured through 6.2 million Instagram snaps geo-tagged in the city area in 2017, narrowed them down to 25,000, and organized them by visual similarity and image content. The result is an astounding collection of very similar images around a specific location. Same poses, same subjects, same colors — same. same, but different, as Stefaner found.

“To me, these very tight clusters of almost identical images became the most interesting aspect. How often can people take the same photos? At the same time, each of them is slightly different indeed, and the continuous re-enactment of rituals and re-discovery of photo ideas has a comforting charme to it as well.”

We can take this project as a visual study that we might all be just copying each other, learning from social media where the best, Instagram-worthy spots are — like the Eiffel Tower, the Parisian Ferris wheel, and the Orangerie museum where Monet’s famous Water Lilies is housed (and where photography is actually not allowed). We might even be fond of showing off the same things that everyone else does, whether it’s partying in nightclubs, striking a yoga pose, or a new arm tattoo.

Or, maybe we are all just drawn to things with universal beauty and appeal — like the Mona Lisa, neon signs, the Louvre, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, to name a few. And social media just gave us a venue to talk about it.

All images by Moritz Stefaner