Beautiful Degradation
February 12, 2015 7:03 AM   Subscribe

This Is What Happens When You Repost an Instagram Photo 90 Times is actually a lovely little demonstration of how JPEG artifacts, edge detection, automatic sharpening, and whatever else Instagram does by default to photos stacks up to quickly make an image decay and deteriorate via processing. The video demonstrates the effects in a nice quick time-lapse way as well.
posted by mathowie (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
How much of it is from adjusting the framing a little bit between uploads?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:08 AM on February 12, 2015


I can't tell if that was from doing screenshots or just taking the image that comes out of Instagram to your camera roll and re-running it. I've never noticed any serious compression on my own images in the app when I've not picked any filters, but then I never ran it over and over and it looks like it takes a good 5-6 passes before stuff starts happening.
posted by mathowie at 7:10 AM on February 12, 2015


Reminds me of the guy who uploaded and ripped the same video on YouTube 1000 times to demonstrate the extreme degradation. By the end it sounds like he has entered the vapor-pool of the internet.
posted by jsplit at 7:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]




I've done this in GIMP by ignorantly screwing up the parameters for some filters. Good to know I ( once again ) predicted a trend...
posted by mikelieman at 7:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some folks have done it with JPEGs too. Though I think in Instagram's case it's the filtering/color-conversion/gamma-correction more than the JPEG reencoding (he is doing a screen capture after all).
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:20 AM on February 12, 2015


Should have used 'Valencia'.
posted by Fizz at 7:28 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love this; both the process and the outpoint. One of my favourite pieces of contemporary music is Basinski's Disintegration Loops; created when he realized that some of his old recordings were literally disintegrating as the magnetic tape he recorded them on fell apart, and re-recording them looped over and over as the tape fell to pieces (sorta previously).

Decay as an artistic artifact is so ingrained in my mind as a pre-digital problem -- at some point, I bought into the idea that a digital copy was "perfect" from one to the next -- that I find the ways that entropy sneaks into these "perfect" systems to be even more interesting than the kind of decay you find in old photos, old records, etc.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by Shepherd at 7:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


Ź͝a̧͞lg̵o
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:44 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of this video of VHS degradation. It's odd to see the difference digital degradation and analog occur. On a semi-related note, I've been wondering when the classic static, of crackles, pops and white noise, you see in films and tv when someone is dramatically losing the signal will be replaced with the blockiness and stuttering you see when digital signals start to fail.
posted by Hactar at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Already that's started to happen, see for example Cloverfield, wherein the "found footage" throughout the movie is supposed to have been recovered from a solid-state digital storage medium.

It's kind of amazing the amount of information you can recover with detailed knowledge of the algorithm, for example the Space-X video that NASA was able to re-assemble.
posted by odinsdream at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015


The vertical compression/shifting is particularly odd.
posted by maryr at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015


Decay as an artistic artifact is so ingrained in my mind as a pre-digital problem -- at some point, I bought into the idea that a digital copy was "perfect" from one to the next -- that I find the ways that entropy sneaks into these "perfect" systems to be even more interesting than the kind of decay you find in old photos, old records, etc.

You were right to believe that digital copies are perfect. It just so happens that when you upload your data to someone else and then get it back, they might have done something to it in the interim (like decoding and re-encoding in lossy formats). It's not like you'd get this effect if you took a JPG and moved it from folder to folder on your own hard drive, or stuck it on a dumb FTP server somewhere.
posted by Jpfed at 7:54 AM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


This deterioration process is also what happened to Gary Busey.
posted by delfin at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you want to play around: pixelsort | imageglitcher | glitché
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, the actual point here is that Instagram re-processes images every time they get posted, right? Because, simply posting a jpeg over and over shouldn't have any effect on image quality unless it was also being re-processed each time, at some point along the way.

FWIW, I once did a similar experiment with an office copier. I started with an actual photograph and made a copy. Then, I made a copy of that copy. Then a copy of the copy of the copy, etc. etc. etc. The image ended up collapsing into abstract blobs and actually walked off the edge of the paper. It took several packs of copy paper, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:03 AM on February 12, 2015


So, the actual point here is that Instagram re-processes images every time they get posted, right?

Yeah, I imagine it's mostly done to optimize and decrease their storage needs, so I suspect they do as much compression as they can to make file sizes smaller. When you're running a giant internet juggernaut company based on large images, I suspect the hosting costs are their biggest expense, and they can compress without inducing too many artifacts, but if you repeat it, you start to notice.
posted by mathowie at 8:08 AM on February 12, 2015


But why would Instagram actually recreate the file already on their servers, instead of just linking to their original?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:18 AM on February 12, 2015


It's not like you'd get this effect if you took a JPG and moved it from folder to folder on your own hard drive, or stuck it on a dumb FTP server somewhere.

Eventually you might see corruption if the medium itself fails and whatever software you're using to copy doesn't verify the copy properly. I have a few jpegs with chunks in the middle corrupted after a hard drive just barely began to fail.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2015


http://needsmorejpeg.com/
posted by exogenous at 8:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


But why would Instagram actually recreate the file already on their servers, instead of just linking to their original?

When you upload the output from Instagram back into Instagram, it's a new image to them, and the process starts all over again. They have no idea there was an "original" image since the service isn't built to detect people uploading a processed image 90 times.

This person didn't upload the same file 90 times, they did it once, and when you go through Instagram it leaves a copy of the file on your camera roll with a little bit of processing. They uploaded that result, then got a new resulting file, and so on and so on.
posted by mathowie at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The vertical compression/shifting is particularly odd.

That, at least, I am certain is because of the reframing each time. You can see in the first video in the first link that he has to shift the image down each time, without being too fussy about nailing it exactly. The horizontal seems to remain stable.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:27 AM on February 12, 2015


To avoid this, you could store the hash of the original image and the compressed image. When the file gets uploaded, they check both sets of hashes to see if they can just use a file already on their server.

That's not to say that they should do this; the only people it would affect would be people that do repeated upload/download cycles like this guy.
posted by Jpfed at 8:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I Am Sitting in Stagram" lulz
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:52 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


jsplit: Reminds me of the guy who uploaded and ripped the same video on YouTube 1000 times

By the end it sounds like he's talking some sort of splashy, bubbly fish language.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:01 AM on February 12, 2015


When the Immortals look upon you from the High Dimensions, this is how you appear for your fleeting instants.
posted by aramaic at 9:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


My guess on the vertical artifacts is that they're ringing/some other artifact of sharpening, e.g. see the ringing example in http://www.bythom.com/sharpening.htm
posted by jjwiseman at 9:19 AM on February 12, 2015


Apparently I've benn reprogrammed to read any sentence beginning with "This is what happens when you..." in John Goodman's voice.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


MeFi's own (twice over?) Pete Ashton.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:31 AM on February 12, 2015


You were right to believe that digital copies are perfect. It just so happens that when you upload your data to someone else and then get it back, they might have done something to it in the interim (like decoding and re-encoding in lossy formats). It's not like you'd get this effect if you took a JPG and moved it from folder to folder on your own hard drive, or stuck it on a dumb FTP server somewhere.

I know -- and that's what I love, that we actually invented a perfect system to duplicate images perfectly but then some human got in there and messed with the settings to "optimize" things. Unlike material objects that decay due to natural processes, humans are what turned this system into one that degrades.

It's like a ham-fisted moral lesson from Star Trek:TOS made manifest.
posted by Shepherd at 10:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Looking at that picture, does anyone else feel that they are suffering some kind of psychic assault, maybe from Scanners? Please let me know, unless your head has exploded.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:17 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Experimental filmmaker J.J. Murphy explored this idea in 1974 with his brilliant film Print Generation.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:38 AM on February 12, 2015


FWIW, I once did a similar experiment with an office copier. I started with an actual photograph and made a copy. Then, I made a copy of that copy. ...

Hey, I used to work as a temp too!

Only in my experiment I set the zoom to 90%. So for the first 30-40 pages it feels like you're going deeper and deeper into a random place in the original image, and then it turns into noise.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:09 AM on February 12, 2015


And if you want to see a similar breakdown of process, you can check out the Talking Carl Scream Fight.

Though I guess there's some deep distinction between iterating things that are expected to leave the underlying object unmodified, and iterating things that are supposed to change it. What it might be I don't know.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's stuff like this which makes me profoundly skeptical of mind uploads, because there's no way to map a continuous variable onto a discrete representation without introducing some form of error, which is likely to chaotically diverge if you're running that data through a continuous feedback loop.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Haaa....so I write an email with lots of charts and images in it every morning, and Outlook always magically makes images blurry when you copy paste into an email. Sometimes I reuse the image from previous emails and it just gets blurrier and blurrier. It's like an old and tattered photo that has been passed around...
posted by pravit at 3:47 PM on February 12, 2015


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