I've got to get something off my chest. I love Instagram. I'll spend 15 minutes getting my dinner setting just right so I can heavily saturate the colors on my (rapidly cooling) fettucini alfredo and blur out the wine glass in the background. My friends all make fun of me for it. I don't care.
I download a lot of iPhone apps. I like to see what people are building. Instagram is one of the few that I actually use regularly. Is it really worth a billion dollars? Probably. I don't know. Doesn't matter. This post isn't about that. It's about the next wave of content creation.
Instagram makes it easy to create high quality content. I like taking pictures. I don't own an SLR camera. I don't know a whole lot about photography. My Instagrams still come out pretty nice. They're not the best. They never end up on the popular page. But, I like them. Sometimes my friends like them. And that's enough to keep me using it.
My (very) limited photography knowledge boils down to two key concepts: composition and exposure. Both easily controlled by Instagram without even understanding their significance.
[Aside: This also illustrates why an "Instagram for Video" is not so simple. Video is a much more complex medium - creation is harder and consumption is harder. Composition is harder because it takes longer to sift through raw footage. Exposure is harder because you have to deal with movement. And it adds another dimension - audio. Even once you've solved those problems, video requires more time to consume and is harder to share.]
User activation is easy for Instagram because its useful as a standalone tool. You don't need to build a social network before it becomes compelling. Just install it and start making all your photos look like they were taken in the 70's. I've met plenty of people who don't follow any friends. (That is, until I take their phone and force them to follow me. @iyengar. Do it.)
But we all crave recognition. Once you've crafted an amazing photo of your dinner, you want people to see it. Instagram leads to very natural sharing — people inherently want to show off what they create.
Plus, tweeting "At the beach on a Tuesday #nbd" isn't as satisfying as Instagramming your sexy legs to really rub in in everyone's face. And then tweeting the picture.
The Internet is very hit driven. Everyone is bombarded by the breakout winners (think Gangnam Style) until they're sick of them. That also means novelty commands a premium — if it's high quality.
Instagram photos are a constant stream of unique content that hasn't been seen anywhere else. On a recent road trip, my friend Ryan and I took Instagrams from the exact same spot at the same time. We ended up with completely unique perspectives on the same location.
Flickr and YouTube solved the aggregation and hosting problem for user-generated content. Instagram solves the problem of creating that content in the first place. In the process, it also became a destination for content consumption. This makes it more valuable and more sustainable than platforms that depend on content from other sources. It seems like Mark Zuckerburg agrees. Users were already posting their Instagrams to Facebook, but owning the source gives you full control the golden content goose.
Instagram's content creation loop is simple —
(1) enabling high-quality content creation
(2) leads to natural sharing
(3) resulting in a stream of unique content that inspires more creation.
There are many more of these to come. Polyvore is another great example of this model. I'm excited about how these tools will make the next wave of content easy to create, high-quality, unique and endless.