Summary:

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said Hurricane Sandy was probably the company’s biggest moment, with users tagging 800,000 photos with the “#Sandy” hashtag, compared to about 85,000 photos tagged with the Super Bowl hashtag this year. He said they embraced the participatory nature.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last week, everyone from people trapped in the storm’s direct path to New Yorkers observing their dark city pulled out their smartphones (assuming they had power to charge them), and uploaded their photos of Sandy to Instagram. The company’s co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said people uploaded 800,000 photos tagged with the hashtag “#Sandy,” making it “probably the biggest event to be captured on Instagram,” he said.

Speaking at GigaOM’s RoadMap conference, Systrom explained how Hurricane Sandy was a huge moment for Instagram (by comparison, people tagged 85,000 photos with the most recent Super Bowl hashtag), where it became a focal point for people sharing their images of the storm.

“Sandy was a really interesting event for us,” he said. “People are taking their cell phones and capturing everything.”

Systrom said the storm illustrated for him the participatory nature of Instagram, that people weren’t just interested in looking at photos of Sandy, but actually participating in the news in real time.

“If nearly 1 million photos were tagged with Sandy, imagine how many were taken on the East Coast?” he said. “That’s a really interesting moment in U.S. history because you can look at events and see how it unfolds.”

Systrom said the recent addition of geotagging on Instagram added to people’s ability to share and track photos of the storm. He said the geotagging allowed people to find information during the storm.

“People were actually interested in Sandy in realtime.”

Systrom also commented on Twitter’s addition of photo filters, noting that he’s not worried about it taking from Instagram’s experience, since the company has a good relationship with Twitter and that having filters has become a ubiquitous feature.

“Instagram is a community, not a filters app,” he said.

Check out the rest of our GigaOM RoadMap 2012 live coverage here, and a video recording of the session follows below:

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