This is the most liked photo I've ever posted on Instagram. 91. Not very many! But a lot for me. The thing is, I don't know why. It's not a very good photo — it's sort of off-kilter, slightly generic, whatever. The recent influx of the Android riff-raff only partly explains it, because it is by far my most liked photo, and there are other photos taken around the same time that don't have nearly as many likes.
So the question: What makes people "like" a photo on Instagram? The best way to figure it out, perhaps, is to look at the most liked photo on Instagram.
You would think it'd be easy to see the most liked photo ever on Instagram — a simple, raw statistic measuring pure id-driven popularity. It is not. Even browsing through the wealth of data collected by web-based Instagram services, like Webstagram, the most liked photo across the entire service is apparently a tricky thing to divine. There's no way to filter by likes, perhaps by design. Instagram's own popular page does "not simply count likes," and it's constantly churning through new pictures.
I emailed Joe Mio, the proprietor of Webstagram, to see if he had an idea of what the most liked photo ever on Instagram would be, given that he's got a huge database from the unending streams of data pouring in through the Instagram API. "At this time, using the API, it is just a little difficult I think," he says, because the "number of likes are always changing and difficult to check all pics."
He suggested, though, that Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez, the two most popular users on the service — with 1,285,752 and 1,233,238 followers, respectively — probably have the most likes. A fair suggestion. The most liked photo I could find between the two of them was this one — featuring both of them, naturally — with nearly 150,000 likes. It's true of most of their photos, actually — the ones with the most likes tend to be the photos of the two together, or of themselves individually, like this one or this one or this one. Not so much the photos you might consider artsy, like this shot. (Exception: this one, of a puppy.)
So pure fame is still the straightest shot to popularity on the 30-million-user service, even though the general perception of Instagram — until it got bought by Facebook — was that it as this indie thing, where a certain kind of aesthetic or brilliant capture of an OMG moment might achieve a kind of triumphant popularity on its own merits in this rarefied little world. What are the self-portraits of Bieber and Gomez but icons of fame itself, after all, affirmed by their armies of likers?
In that regard, perhaps the most interesting photo ever taken on Instagram is this one, by Bieber. It's a photo of nothing. Literally. It's just a black square. But it picked up 15,277 likes and 900 comments: "Never give up" and "love u" and "This has got to be your best photo haha."
P.S. if you find a photo with more likes, let me know! I've also reached out to Instagram for a more official declaration of Instagram's most liked photo and will update if I find out.