Side Note

The online status indicator is dead

Instagram, a very thirsty app indeed, recently introduced to its platform the green dot — a status indicator that shows your friends you are not only extremely online, but very literally online right at that second. This is eminently unnecessary snitching.

When status indicators were originally introduced — the listing of screen names and opening- and slamming-of-door sounds by people signing on and off and posting of away messages on AOL Instant Messenger, may it rest — and continued to proliferate on services like Gchat and Facebook’s chat feature, we were all still using computers. Sometimes we were on those computers; sometimes, we were living our lives and not on computers.

Smartphones do not, and have never, faced this dichotomy of existence. Anyone who has Instagram, by definition, has a smartphone. If you have a smartphone, you are online no matter where you are or what you are doing.

All a status indicator can do is tell you whether someone has the app open at that very second, which is a totally irrelevant indication of whether they are reachable. Push alerts arrive regardless of whether the app is open or closed, whether the phone is sleeping or not. If the person you’re trying to reach doesn’t have push alerts on because they hate being bothered by push alerts, they almost certainly aren’t going to sit around with the Instagram app open, waiting for their buddies to get in touch. Therefore, it stands to reason the green dot is not for letting people know you are available to chat; rather, it's an indicator that you are on the app doing something other than chatting to people who can see your dot. This is a fair thing for anyone to do, but that means all a green dot can do is build needless resentment in you, the passive observer.

Is the green status dot just another square on the roadmap that eventually marries Instagram and Facebook into a single service? Probably. Is it a bold-faced attempt to get us to use Instagram-specific video chat? Also probably. Is any of this needed? Absolutely not.

Instagram: stop snitching.