Three years ago today, when Instagram opened its doors to the world, I was one of those who signed up for the service. I had been waiting for a mobile-first, visual social network for a long time and whatever I had heard about the service made me excited that Instagram could be that service. It was fast, it was lightweight, it had simple social interactions (like and comment) and it allowed me to share photos on other platforms. Oh, yeah — and it had filters too.
Three years later, that hunch has proven right. It recently crossed 150 million users and has become one of the fastest growing mobile applications in the world. Its growth caught everyone, including Twitter and Facebook, by surprise, and they both entered a bidding war for the company, with Facebook winning. At less than a billion dollars, Mark Zuckerberg got a bargain — and in the process managed to avert one (of many) looming threats to his social platform. (I’ll be chatting on stage with Instagram’s co-founder Kevin Systrom at our RoadMap 2013 conference on November 5th and 6th in San Francisco).
Like me, I am pretty sure many are attracted to new phone apps like FrontBack and Everlapse. Others are busy SnapChat-ting away! However, despite all these new alluring apps, my love affair for Instagram continues. Outside of communication apps, it is one of my most used applications. I open it about a dozen times a day, and like a few dozen photos daily, as I sift through lives of 333 people. Many are people I have never met, but they take me to magical, faraway places and I like that. I leave comments and when I have to spend a day away from it, I feel that my day was a little less interesting.
Evolution of an Instagram-mer
But more than that, Instagram in many ways has mirrored my evolution as an amateur photographer.
In three years, I have shared about 1490 photos and have managed to convince 19,155 people that my photos are worth their time. I have shared moments of joy and sadness. Of my old home and new home. I blend moments of my daily mundane life with magical experiences I am blessed with. Sometimes I take news photos and share then too, but the reality is that my Instagram feed has become a place for self reflection, a chance to just find a slice of emotion and share it with others. (Check out my Instagram photos.)
Before Instagram existed, I took some photos and occasionally shared them on my personal blog. However, I wasn’t sure they were any good, so I refrained from imposing them on the world. Instagram, however, opened up my eyes to new possibilities — and to learning from people I didn’t even know. I saw many photographers sharing their photos and looking at their styles, I tried to replicate their photos. A few thousand terrible photos later, my ability to take photos slowly started to improve.
The early feedback from the Instagram-community helped me learn this new kind of photography. The process has brought me closer to a lot of strangers who didn’t really exist in my life before Instagram. Random photo walks have turned these strangers into friends and most have been generous to spend time and help me tweak my photos and improve my photo skills.
There are many who say that the “filtered” and highly curated life on Instagram is nothing like reality. And while that might be so, for me Instagram is one social network that is truly social. What is special about Instagram is not that it allows rich kids to show off their fabulous life or others to show their expensive watches or perfect romantic moments — instead it is the idea that this platform could be anything for anyone!
As it heads into its fourth year, Instagram has to grow up and become a business. It recently said that it will push advertising into its photo streams and eventually we can (and should) expect video advertising in our streams. A lot of people are going to be upset about it, but I am betting that Instagram’s management — which includes co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger – will ensure that our affair to remember doesn’t became all about money. If you want to hear more from Kevin on this, join us at RoadMap next month.