Instagram

Instagram Polaroids The natural progression of things on the web is inevitable. One form of technology gives way to another and the fountain continues to flow. Assuming stagnation especially in the interwebs where things change by the day would be foolish to say the least.

Take into account the very need of Google OS based device since the announcement and keeping in view the growth of the Android platform since. When the announcement was first made, like everyone else I was very excited but today I would read about it in my RSS Reader and never care about it the next moment. That is the best and the worst things about the web. No matter who you are, things will change and even the best laid plans will falter.

In light of this knowledge, let us take a look into a small app that is gradually redefining the landscape of the way people share and click photographs. I am referring one of my most used apps on my iPhone, Instagram. Even if you have not used it yourself, I am sure you have seen it in bits and pieces via the links left by one of its 3,00,000 users (in less than 1 month of launch). If Twitter and Flickr were to have a love child, it would be Instagram.

What is it that has made Instagram such an overnight success. The number of photography apps in the App Store is endless, then what made it such a quick hit among masses? What is the secret sauce that founders Mike and Kevin seem to have figured out?

What problem does it solve?

For any app, the first and most important question to ask is “what problem does it solve”. The how comes later. Instagram solves the problem of sharing our moments effortlessly with the world and in a way that makes us look creative. I have talked about tapping the ego of the user and Instagram taps into our inherent urge to be creative (hipster if you may). In one click it allows me to explore the world of people who are not only far more creative but also share brilliant photographs despite the limitations of the device and the app (if you question this, have a look at Dan Rubin’s Instagram timeline).

Unlike Flickr where the focus is porting over friends and family from other network or seeing what they are uploading once in a blue moon, Instagram founders understand that there are only a billion other ways to do that. So they went ahead and solved the more complex problem of sharing stories through photography effortlessly and also seeing what others share, no matter whether they are friends or family or someone I have never heard of before.

Call it Instagraphy if you may!

Remember the time when all that blogging meant was writing long thoughtful pieces and along came a little blue bird that went by the name of Twitter. The landscape of blogosphere changed since then and today microblogging as a term is limited to only the social media fanatics. For the rest of the world, it is sharing opinion and views. Whether I do that in 140 words or write a novella about it should not really matter.

In a similar fashion, in a world of HD cameras and brilliant lenses, instagraphy brings photography to everybody and at all times. Every decent mobile phone is now equipped with a camera that can save a moment forever. Till now the moment was normally captured and forgotten. It was only when you ever took out the cable to sync your photographs or cared to email them to yourself that that moment was shared with others who would care about it. With Instagram, it all happens effortlessly. Sharing photographs over multiple networks is a magical potion that Instagram has brewed very craftily (second only to the now banned Campl.us), but more important in the long run will be the plethora of narratives being shared on Instagram itself.

The retro charm at no extra cost

Instagram has a set of filters that you can apply to your photographs and it all works like a charm. The process is streamlined and the filters beautiful. The end result is a photograph that not only can be shared easily across multiple social networks but is also worth sharing and gaining some street cred for being a creative hipster.

There are other apps like Hipstamatic that do this, but personally I believe it takes skeuomorphic design to another dimension where the charm of photographs comes at a heavy price of unnecessary an often annoying wait for animations like the changing of lens or the smaller viewport to click photographs. If I were ready for that investment, I would rather go buy a retro camera than use an app for it!

Community

The early adopters of Instagram were designers or photographers and all sorts of creatives. Add to that the easy access to Popular photographs which are regularly updated, Instagram has the perfect tools to grow a community. The app had 100,000 users in the first 6 days (a feat that took Foursquare 6 months to complete). The easy (though a bit confusing) way to import friends via Twitter makes it work like a charm. There is no extra effort that needs to be made to be involved in the community. The Like button comes to the rescue at times when we are too bored to comment on that awesome shot we just saw.

I do not know what lies next for Instagram. I do not know if they have given it a thought, but they seem to have tapped into a big market that is yet unoccupied or at least in its infancy. With carefully built extensions for desktop and other mobile devices, they might very well be on their way to be the next Flickr or Twitter or maybe something completely new and unheard of. After all evolution and progression are inevitable on the web.