Is Instagram Social Networkings Next Giant?

Over the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of playing around with an iPhone app called Instagram. If you follow this blog you know I have a project going where I am posting one of my Instagram pics every day here for the next 365 days. So what is it about Instagram that is so appealing, and why is it such a fast growing social networking application?

Instagram is a relatively new application and social network. It has been around for just a few months having launched back at the first of October 2009, but it is a rapidly growing star amongst iPhone users and Instagram has plans to release an Android version of the app which will help extend the social networks reach.

A few quick facts about Instagram.

  • Launched on October 6, 2009
  • #1 in the App Store within 24 hours of launch
  • iPhone App of the Week, first week of launch
  • Holds the record as application quickest to reach 1 million downloads, occurring on December 21
  • An Instagram photo made the cover of the Wall Street Journal
  • More than 1 million users world-wide in 3 months

So why is everyone joining the Instagram stampede? Simple “Social Photo Sharing” and like it has been said for years, a picture is worth a thousand words. Not only does this application support its own growing and very vibrant social network, it supports all the major players as well. Facebook, twitter, Flickr, Posterous and Tumblr are all supported for sharing your images. You can also connect with your foursquare account and tag your photos with location. By default Instagram is set for public sharing, but you can set your account to private. It sort of defeats the point though. The whole thing that is so wonderful about Instagram is the very positive, creative social network it has spawned. In the last few months I have never seen a flame war or slamming comments on anyone’s posted images. I’m sure it probably happens, but I have yet to witness it, which makes me think if it does, the percentage is extremely small.

Where Instagram really shines is the social aspect of the application. Instagram, like every social network, is based around having friends or in Instagram’s case, followers.  On Instagram you ‘follow’ people just like you do on Twitter.  At the top of your profile you will see your name, profile pic, how many photos you have uploaded, how many followers you have, and how many people you are following.  When you follow someone, their photos show up in your stream. As you browse the stream of incoming photos, you can like, and comment on them. As certain photos receive more feedback and likes they are moved to the “Popular” page of the application helping to grow your visibility within the community. Once start using Instagram, you can see how friendly people are, and how much fun they are having.

In addition to the social aspect of Instagram, like most popular photo applications for the iPhone Instagram comes with its own built-in set of filters that seem to get used quite a bit. And while not all of the filters are my favorites, they do allow you to create some really visually interesting images. With each update Instagram has added new filters and tweaked the way they perform, helping it grow its network of established users.

But what is it about this application that has made it so insanely popular in the last 5 and a half months? At the end of the day it is the photographs themselves.   I am amazed at the quality of the  photography you will find here. Seriously some of the most amazing photographs I have seen in any social networking application.  Thanks to the quality of the iPhone camera (soon all those Android phones) we now have allow almost anyone with a decent eye to take beautiful, crisp shots. (I do want to point out that a number of people shoot with pro level gear and transfer those shots to their phones before uploading to Instagram.) Now with that said, I am not to say you won’t find the everyday and mundane photos here, because you will. For every killer shot, there are tons of photos of people’s pets, goofy self portraits, snaps of everyday life, like the stuff captured on disposable cameras a decade ago. But what makes it great is ho it is a visual record of the world around us as seen by so many.  It is a running documentary of your life, and the life of others.

One of the things that I truly find interesting, and I think is one of the most compelling aspects of this application is the fact that it is global. It exists in a flat world view with people from every continent and background following you. Last night I broke 100 followers on Instagram. Not bad for only 6 weeks worth of use. The fun thing is, I only actually know 6 of them. The rest are people from all over the world, Japan, Korea, Australia, Italy, etc. They all comment on my shots and encourage my work. These connections allow me to get a glimpse into the everyday lives of others around the world that I may never meet.  There is something about this application that encourages a very positive community, one that shows how similar all of us are no matter where we live and what culture we come from.

It’s to early to tell where Instagram is going to end up in the social network game, but my bets are on it becoming as large as Facebook or Twitter. It was born out of the shared mobile experience, it focuses on the positive aspects of creativity, it encourages us to be part of a global community and explore.

If you want to follow me on Instagram, do a search for “wjohns4”. I’ll look forward to checking out your images and following you too.