1:16pm

Sun December 25, 2011
It Was A Good Year For...

Instagram's Winning Recipe: Images And Social Media

Originally published on Sat February 25, 2012 4:30 pm

There are a lot of photo apps out there for the iPhone. With most of them, you take a picture, put a filter on it and maybe add some lens blur. But many of them don't have a built-in way for you to share the photo.

"When we combined those two key ingredients, we came up with something that became Instagram," says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, who is also one if its founders.

Systrom won't even call Instagram a "photo app," in the conventional sense, and that's because the camera is only half of the story. The other half is the social aspect of the app.

On Instagram, when other people across the world take and upload photos, you can see those as well in an ongoing photo stream on your phone. You can scroll through thousands of photos of people, their friends, the places they've been and perhaps even their meals. After all, there are millions of people who use Instagram.

In fact, the app adds users so quickly that it's hard to keep track of just how many of them there are. Systrom estimates that there are over 16 million people on board so far. In 2011, people uploaded photos to Instagram at a rate of 90 pictures every second, and it was Apple's iPhone App of the Year.

A defining moment for Systrom was when the news struck that Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, was killed. He remembers opening up Instagram and seeing image after image of people taking pictures of their TV sets and of themselves watching President Obama's announcement.

"I remember thinking like that this is really interesting that we're documenting that we're watching this moment together," he says.

It's not just the millions of iPhone owners that have hopped on the Instagram train, news organizations like The Washington Post have used the app to share reader photos, and big retailers like Banana Republic use it as a sort of interactive advertisement.

With all of that apparent success, it might be a surprise that Instagram hasn't started making any money yet, but who knows what the future holds. For now, Systrom and the rest of the team are still riding the wave of investment dollars from earlier this year, and they plan to do the same in 2012.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Over the next week, NPR News is featuring a series of stories called A Good Year. In the last days of 2011, we're going to talk about people, trends and the companies that did well over the last 12 months. It's been a good year for gold prices, for Korean pop music, for coconut water and for Instagram.

NPR's Becky Sullivan reports on the breakout photo service that Apple calls the iPhone app of the year.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: There are a lot of photo apps out there for the iPhone. You take a picture, you put on a filter, maybe some blur. But on most of them, there's no built-in way for you to share that photo.

KEVIN SYSTROM: And when we combined those two key ingredients, we came up with something that became Instagram.

SULLIVAN: That would be Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram and one of its founders. He won't even call Instagram a photo app, and that's because your camera is only half the story. On Instagram, when other people across the world take and upload photos, you can see those too. Like this one from New York City, a tourist taking her first ever subway ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

SULLIVAN: At a basketball game in Lawrence, Kansas, the crowd goes wild.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

SULLIVAN: Then from Denver, a snapshot of sleds flying down a snowy hill.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE LAUGHING)

SULLIVAN: You can scroll through thousands of these photos: pictures of people, their friends, their meals. After all, there are millions of people who use Instagram. In fact, the app adds users so quickly that it's hard to keep track of just how many of them there are. Systrom estimates that there are over 16 million people on board so far, and they take and upload up to 90 photos a second. So when something major happens...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

SYSTROM: I remember looking at the Instagram and seeing image after image of people just taking pictures of their TV sets.

OBAMA: It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened...

SYSTROM: And I'm watching the, you know, the Obama announcement, and I remember thinking, like, this is really interesting that we're documenting that we're watching this moment together.

SULLIVAN: And it's not just those millions of iPhone owners that have hopped on the Instagram train. The Washington Post has started using the app for readers to share their own photos, and big retailers like Banana Republic now use Instagram as a sort of interactive advertisement.

So maybe it's a surprise that Instagram hasn't started making any money yet. Systrom and the rest of the Instagram team are still riding the wave of investment dollars from earlier this year and they plan to do the same in 2012. For NPR News, I'm Becky Sullivan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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