The online photo and video-sharing social network Instagram launched in October 2010 and gained 100,000 users in one week. As of March 2014, there were 200 million active monthly users on the service, 70% of whom log in every day. On average, 60 million photos are posted each day.
Instagram entered the social media photo sphere with one unique proposition no other service was offering, and that was a stroke of genius. Users could apply filters to their photos to create unique images that made them look like better pictures than they actually were!
In short order, the “Instagrammed” photo took on the appeal of other, older “less is more” photographic styles like Lomography (analog photos created with a low-budged Russian made camera) and the old, ubiquitous Polaroids of the 1960s and 1970s.
This Instagram sub-culture was and is populated with tech-savvy users who are deeply into social media and who have phones with increasingly more sophisticated cameras. Consequently, as Instagram has grown, much of the content has become frankly artistic, which has served as a growth engine in and of itself.
Integration with Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr is built into the app in a cooperative rather than a competitive fashion so that sharing is simple and natural. Instagrams are now instantly recognized on the other platforms, which further encourages new member sign-ups. Social media users don’t like to feel “left out.”
On a technical level, the Instagram app is unusually fast, which in the beginning was a rare for a mobile app. This applies both to the processing and upload of photos, and to browsing the site itself. Designers made the decision to load content based on importance, not order, so users are constantly seeing the most engaging images in their feeds.
The app constantly notifies users of what it is doing, so there is no perception of anything being “stuck” or “hung up.” Reassuring users has proven a small but critical improvement that makes them patient and relieves any friction.
Photo sharing applications always carry an inherent risk of creating a venue for pornographic or improper content. Instagram’s designers opted to make all profiles public automatically and thus discouraging that kind of behavior.
They do not censor content overtly, but have quietly trained users to consciously separate or curate their content based on perceived public pressure, a strategy similar to that used by Facebook. In so doing, an overall confidence in the user assurance is bolstered for a higher level of comfort in the community.
There is, however, also a key element of luck in the Instagram instant success story. On the day the service launched, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey tweeted about it — to the more than one million people who follow him. In short order, Instagram was “app of the Day” on the iTunes store — and the rest is history.
In fact, the Instagram “look,” which is tailored to a square photo format, has become so ubiquitous in the world of mobile photographer, the format has been emulated in a number of iPhone photo apps to increase the options for image sharing on Instagram itself. Most notable among these is the highly popular Hipstamatic.
Since Instagram users can choose existing photos from their photostream and upload them with no edits or filters, the door is wide open for the use of pictures taken or edited with other applications. In this case, imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but an additional growth stream for Instagram via third party applications!
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