Instagram Beyond the Numbers

Natalie Rodic Marsan   October 4, 2011
Brooklyn rush hour in an instant. (image via Natalie Rodic)

The Breakdown: Natalie Rodic Marsan tells us why Instagram has been embraced so broadly since its launch less than a year ago. Read on to see why it’s not just about taking compelling photos. >>

Have you tried Instagram yet? I installed the App the first week it launched, and it’s been a gradual progression from dabbling to completely hooked.

At least I know I’m not alone. The sheer numbers of Instagram users and the volume of their posts are phenomenal.  The mobile photo sharing App boasted 100,000 “Mobile Photo Addicts” in less than one week after its public launch in November 2010.  The most recent count is that 1.3 million photos are uploaded every day. Users have shared a whopping total of 150 million photos on the platform in only 9 months.  The top users are garnering enough attention to threaten the world of professional photography. And early adopter businesses, some big names even, are utilizing the App for community building around their own brand. Best practices for business engagement are even emerging. All this for an App that only runs on one operating system: iOS.

For all its success, Instagram is not an isolated case. It belongs to a new, exploding category of Applications focused on mobile photography and mobile photo sharing, which are collectively changing the way we think about photography. With the device we have with us constantly, we can capture quality shots of practically any subject, then choose from a plethora of free or cheap Apps to edit or filter these shots to enhance the feeling of the moment.  These photos can then be shared instantly in any of our social networking sites (and syndicated across platforms if so desired).

It is the next step in the democratization of content. Instagram (also referred to as IG by members) enables anyone to be a content creator, and a narrator of his or her world via images. As we begin to understand and relate to our world increasingly on a visual level, soaking up information by way of data visualization, infographics, and digital images, anyone who chooses to engage can be empowered by this technology.

A Wired article in September 2010 “The Web is Dead” outlined that content distribution and engagement is going, “to simpler, sleeker services that just work”. Why didn’t Flickr, or even Facebook, currently the largest repository of social photos, foster the same kind of rich interaction around images that Instagram has in such a short time? Most likely because of the lack of attention on the mobile user experience, their mobile apps aren’t laser-focused on sharing photos socially, nor do the Apps make it easy to do so. Conversely, Instagram is a singularly-focused service on your iPhone that works well, without endless options to pull you in a million directions and lose focus of what you’re there for — to share images, the context of those images, and to connect with others around the subject  (or even simply the beauty of that content). It is what an IG member and community manager, Rachael King @rachaelgk, called “so peaceful, like the ‘going fishing’ place in Social Media Land”.

There is something unique in this design and intent. Other widely adopted social networks have brought us closer to those we already know (Facebook), or have enabled us to build our professional networks (LinkedIn). Others (like Twitter) have enabled us to find new people who share information we find interesting or helpful. But Instagram is bringing us closer to people all over the world whom we’ve never met, but whose take on the world and aesthetic choices resonates with us. Just as the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch followed bohemian intellectual Hans Jaegger’s advice of discovering and telling the story of his life with his paintings in the mid 19th century, so is each Instagram user in the 21st century.

Being the narrator of one’s world through imagery is an intimate experience. Because of this, real life Instagram communities are forming all over the globe. To understand this next step of interaction, the in real life aspect, I attended a NYC Instawalk hosted by Postagram one recent Sunday morning. The group was roughly 20 people of all backgrounds and persuasions, iPhones in hand, and eyes wide open.

Walking from Union Square to the Highline Park, we shot pictures that encapsulated the moment: an elderly lady in a walker skillfully navigating her way through our swarm, reflections in windows, other Instagrammers taking photos. We shared knowledge on photo editing Apps, and got to know one another. The saying that you belong to New York in five minutes as much as you do in five years could also be true about Instagram. To have an active account on Instagram, and to be at this event is immediate inclusiveness.

Seeing this thriving community in real life hit home the raison d’etre of Instagram. The proliferation of this mobile photo App and the focused slick mobile interface has created grounds for creating great content and human interaction. The unprecedented rate of adoption, the popularity factor, is impressive – it proves something is working. But ultimately all this exists for an unquantifiable next step:  the fostering of community and relationships. The IG community is one any community builder emulates. And it is only getting started.

Natalie is Founder of Broken Open Media, where she consults on building communities and creating social media strategies. She is currently managing the Razorfish Idea Tank community amongst others. She can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr as @rodicka.

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2 Responses

  1. Joseph says:

    Well said. It’s hard to put in to words why Instagram is so special, but you’ve done it well. I realised how important the app is to me about two months ago, when I realised I literally have not shared (posted on twitter/facebook) one single ‘un-instagrammed’ photo in about 9 months. I’m literally hooked now..even though I run my own startup, have a wife and a baby girl (essentially quite busy) I always find time to post about 4 or 5 intagrams a day. Sometimes days go by and I forget to look at fb or twitter…but not instagram.

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Joseph. It is indeed hard to put into words why Instagram is so special (and compulsive)! This post really only scratches the surface, and I’m glad to hear it resonates. I can relate to finding the time to post a pic on IG, regardless of how busy a day might be. Very interesting that it has replaced your activity – some days – on other social networks. I wonder if others feel the same?

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