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Summary:

Less than a year after it launched its photo-sharing app, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told attendees at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference that new users are signing up at a rate of 78 per minute, and 26 photos are being uploaded to the service every second.

Kevin Systrom - CEO, Instagram at Mobilize 2011

Kevin Systrom - CEO, Instagram at Mobilize 2011Less than a year after it launched its photo-sharing service for the iPhone, Instagram has more than 10 million users who are uploading an average of 26 new pictures every second, co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told attendees at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco on Tuesday — and new users are joining the service at a rate of more than one per second. While he admitted that this sort of growth is “kind of mind-boggling,” Systrom said the company is thinking hard about what comes next for the company, and how it can turn that growth into a “Google-sized” opportunity.

When Instagram first launched as a photo-sharing app in October of 2010, the company had already tried to create a Foursquare-style location service called Burbn, but didn’t like the finished product, and it became obvious the company was going to have to “pivot” (as the Silicon Valley startup community likes to call it) and find another business. It wasn’t clear that photo-sharing was going to work any better than location-based services did: as Systrom acknowledged at Mobilize, there were dozens of photo-sharing apps already, not to mention some giant photo-sharing services like Facebook and Flickr.

So what made Instagram so successful? Some of it was good timing, Systrom said, since the app launched not long after the new iPhone 4 was released by Apple — a device that had a much better camera than its predecessor. This led to more demand for a good photo-sharing service, and one that could make photos look even better by using smart filters to add different effects. Systrom also noted that Instagram was one of the few photo apps that connected to other services as well as its own, including Flickr and Tumblr and Facebook. Said Systrom:

[M]any services like to keep content to themselves, but we like to push it out to other services. That was a real pain point for people, and that’s one of the things that made us stand out from the beginning, I think.

Instagram has also been focused from the very beginning on the speed of the app, which Systrom said has been a competitive advantage. “When you’re with a friend at a cafe or whatever, you don’t want to waste five minutes waiting for your phone to upload a high-resolution image,” he said. So Instagram deliberately provided a much lower-resolution image than its competitors, because that made the upload process a lot faster — and the app also started uploading to the service before users even clicked the “done” button, to speed the process up even further.

In the most recent iteration of the app, Systrom said Instagram tried to speed up the rest of the app as well. Filters can be applied even before the user takes a photo, because the company rewrote how the filters work to make them much faster, and higher-resolution photos are now supported because it made that faster as well. The new features have increased signups to the point where new users are joining at an average of about 78 per minute, the Instagram CEO said — and on Monday, the app recorded a new peak upload record of 26 photos per second.

When it comes to monetization of the service, Systrom said that while the company doesn’t have to think about that for a little while — since it recently closed a $7 million round of financing — it has been brainstorming internally about what a revenue strategy might look like in the future. “In a space where a lot of people are trying to attack the same problem, we think our goal should be to really lock up the space,” he said, but potential monetization could take the form of both premium services or features, as well as sponsorship or advertising-related offerings. “Instagram is one of the few services where people subscribe to brands like Burberry” and Red Bull, he said, and that has the potential for growth.

In the end, Systrom said that the company sees Instagram as providing not just photos but “short entertainment experiences” that can connect users with their friends but also with brands. And the Instagram CEO said that the company is looking ahead to when it can provide more than just an iPhone app — with the near-term focus on both an Android app and a web-based version of the service.

Watch live streaming video from mobilize2011 at livestream.com
  1. Christopher Turney Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Adding a web based portal will seriously downgrade the value proposition of instagram, in my opinion.

    The beauty of instagram is that most of the people on it are posting present sense impressions of their day, beautiful bits of their day that they might not otherwise share. The exclusivity to the iPhone, I believe, is a big part of what nurtures this trend.

    Even though there are already third party web based instagram portals and people put their DSLR photographs on their iPhones to upload to instagram, the majority of the photos I see are not “professional photographs”, but beautiful bits of people’s day that they otherwise might not share. And facebook doesn’t fill this void because, for instance, I don’t know anyone in Tokyo, but I love seeing the sunrise in Tokyo everyday. This is possible because of instagram.

    Flickr already exists for sharing carefully taken vacation photographs, and such. Instagram’s value is in its propensity to be a den of the ordinary but beautiful parts of people’s day. I feel like this is the real value in their brand.

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  2. No I disagree with the below comment. The third party apps don’t downgrade anything. They add value and extra services to what Instagram isnt providing. People are sometimes joining Instagram so they can get the benefits of these extra services as well. And you get to view photos online instead of being hunched in front of your iphone all the time. Statigram is an excellent example of this- you can get stats to your photos and people can more readily share their world with the world. No downgrade there!!
    http://statigr.am/

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  3. It would be 5 users every second if they fucking release an Android version already. I’m sorry, but are they all highschool students? It doesn’t take 2 years to convert a C# program to a Java program.

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