5 Things Instagram Got Right that Others Before it Couldn't

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By: Hillel Fuld

Before I begin, let me explain why I chose to write about Instagram. If you read this blog, you know that I generally write about market trends and current mobile affairs. Very rarely do I focus on one specific app and I do that when the app points to a more general pattern of where the market is headed. Such is the case with the new Instagram phenomenon.

I call it a phenomenon because Instagram is much more than one app the way Facebook is much more than one site. Instagram has had well over 100,000 downloads since it was first released a week and a half ago. I was a latecomer as I only downloaded the app as a result of all the hype.

So what is Instagram and why is it such a huge success? Instagram is an iPhone app that enables the user to snap a photo (or take an existing photo from the phone’s gallery), enhance it with eleven different possible effects, share it on the various social networks, as well as on Instagram itself, which has quickly turned into a social network of its own.

Instead of discussing each one of the features in Instagram, I thought I would take a different approach and point out five things that Kevin Systrom, the developer of Instagram did right, while software giants before him got all wrong.

  1. True Social Integration: If you have already downloaded the new Skype for PC, chances are you know what I am talking about. The new Skype supposedly added Facebook integration. However, a simple attempt to add my Facebook contacts (admittedly, I have a lot of them so that probably took its toll) crashed Skype multiple times. Besides that, I am not sure I get the whole view your feed in Skype thing. Instagram has managed to add seamless social integration to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, FourSquare, and Tumblr. The main difference between this integration and others is that in Instagram’s case, it works perfectly on both a practical and conceptual level. Others before it could not pull it off the way Instagram has.
  2. Pictures on Foursquare: I have heard many people ask for this feature, the ability to check in on Foursquare with a photo. Using Instagram, you can do that and like the above point, it just works. I would be willing to put some money down that someone is going to make an offer to buy Instagram in the coming months. The only question in my mind is who; Foursquare, Facebook, or perhaps Google. Thoughts?
  3. Utter Simplicity: I cannot stress this point enough. If you are a developer, you might want to run a short analysis on all the apps that have gone viral recently. Angry Birds, Flipboard, Cut the Rope, Real Racing, and many more. The common thread that jumps out at me is simplicity. These apps are not overloaded with fancy features and they do not do extraordinary things, they just work. A user can open Flipboard and begin using it without a tutorial. The same is true with Instagram, and that, in my humble opinion, is why the app is so appealing.
  4. Simple Photo Sharing: The thing with Instagram and the reason I did not download it the first time someone talked about it on my Facebook or Twitter stream is because I thought it was just another silly photography app for iPhone. There are so many apps out there like Hipstamatic that allow you to enhance your iPhone photos with cute effects. The thing is with Instagram that separates it from the rest is its sharing abilities. Not only can you easily share your Instagram photos on Facebook or Twitter in one simple step, but you can actually build an entire network of friends around your Instagram photos. What Instagram figured out that others before it did not is that people like to create things but even more than that, they like to show them off. As Jolie O’dell so elegantly puts it in her Mashable post, Instagram is an ego-driven app, which in the case of iPhone apps and photography is a very good thing.
  5. Scalability: Now I am  no developer and I do not know how to properly handle the issue of scalability when it comes to the viral nature of iPhone apps. Having said that, if you are a developer and you create an iPhone app, you need to be prepared for it to explode. In fact, if you do not think it is going to take off, then why bother creating it? Take the case of Flipboard for example. Mike McCue, the CEO and brains behind the wildly popular Flipboard app explains in an interview that he doubled the amount of servers his developer told him he needed before launching Flipboard. However, with the help of some major Flipboard evangelists, the servers crashed within seconds and they had to implement a registration program to roll out the app gradually to new signups. Instagram has exploded and continues to grow in numbers, yet the app is responsive, robust, and fun to use. No scalability issues to be found.

All in all, Instagram seems to be taking the crown of the next big thing in photo sharing. I am sure we will see the app on other platforms including Android and maybe even Windows Phone 7, but for now, developers should be taking this app as a case study and learning a few very crucial lessons about getting their app to take off the way Instagram has.

Have you tried Instagram yet? What did you think? Please let us know in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter. More info at Instagram.

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