If you visit an Instagram account simply called Kevin and scroll a long, long way down... Past pictures of coffee, scenery, selfies, wine and more coffee... Concerts, food, holiday snaps, motivational quotes and lots of a woman called Nicole (his wife) and a dog named Dolly (that has its own account), you will eventually get to one from July 16, 2010. Kevin Systrom posted his 1st Instagram picture of a dog and a flip-flop clad foot belonging to his then-girlfriend Nicole. They were in Mexico. It has no caption, but 81 000 likes and 36 000 comments.
The picture was cropped to be square and used a filter called X-Pro II.
The first post on Instagram July 16, 2010
Next month Instagram will be eight years old. There are over 800 million monthly users and over 50 billion photos. Many may have only a few likes and comments, but some like Kylie Jenner picture announcing the name of her child Stormi Webster has 18 million. It was posted in February this year.
It grew quickly from the beginning reaching a million users by December of 2010.
A reason for the growth was that it was a simple app. Smartphones and their camera were starting to take better photos and rather than posting text, you just snapped a picture, like sending a telegram to your friends with an instant camera. That's how it got its name.
The filters were genius too. The cameras were still relatively simple, using a filter make images more dramatic, more interesting (even if they were just of a cup of coffee).
Of all the things you could take pictures of, it also tapped into our best selves, the posts were overwhelmingly positive and showed reflected the good you saw around you.
Viewing a feed filled with positivity gave you a shot of happiness, and it kept you scrolling. No surprise then, just two years later, Facebook came knocking and paid Kevin Systrom and his co-founder Mike Krieger $1 billion in cash and Facebook stock to keep doing it.
Mike Krieger visited South Africa in 2016.
In the beginning
What Instagram looked like in the beginning.
The pair had initially been working on creating an app to post a picture of where you were called Burbn, but Foursquare already covered that so they opted to make it about sharing photos and only on the iPhone. It was a hit. It was the App of the Year in the App store in 2011 and had over 10 million downloads.
Two early adopters that helped fan the flames were Jamie Oliver and Snoop Dogg. Oliver has over 6000 posts, 6 million followers and what can only be described as food porn. And a hashtag that is one of the more popular on the platform with over 160 million posts using it.
Snoop Dogg does not mess around. He has over 36 000 posts for his 23 million followers and is just as active now as he was eight years ago.
Selena Gomez is one of the most followed individuals with 138 million followers, but brands do well too. National Geographic has 88 million, but the winner is Instagram itself with 238 million. If your image is chosen and shared in their feed, you can expect upwards of half a million likes and more likely over a million.
Hashtags are big on the platform. Johannesburg can be proud of the 1.2 million posts although Cape Town is the Insta capital of SA with over 7.5 million (although we can all celebrate South Africa’s 10 million plus posts). Even though there are likely to be a billion users before it is ten years old, it has managed to remain a mostly positive space, #love is the most popular post tag with over a billion posts, something Facebook would be grateful for and something that may seem odd on Twitter.
Many of the trends you see on other platforms like Twitter started on Instagram.
It was simple, but now?
That is not to say it does not have its problems too.
There are issues with the platform adding so many more features that it is no longer just a simple app, although you can still just snap and go.
One of the reasons is to build out revenue options; the other is to prevent competitors from getting ahead of Facebook’s dominance on social.
It is a significant revenue source for Facebook, reportedly generating $4 billion in 2017 which is 10% of Facebook’s revenue from their 2 million active advertisers.
Snapchat launched just a year after Instagram. It is a popular social platform for young users. Facebook hoped to acquire it too, but they decided to remain independent and listed in 2017. Instagram has incorporated many of the features in its app.
Facebook’s other acquisitions have also made their way to Instagram: video, live streaming and camera effects for overlays. All is fair in the difficult game to keep user numbers growing and engagement at a maximum.
For 500 000 000 Instagram users to use the app daily, many multiple times a day suggests they are still winning.
One way that the numbers have continued to climb is thanks to their creative young users. Articles like this may get parents to want to join and keep an eye on what their kids are posting. Kids of every generation find ways to keep their parents informed, but ultimately in the dark and on Instagram, this can be done using a Finsta. A second account with a username that typically won’t identify the user which is set to private so only those approved can see the posts.
Some might think kids will get up to no good maintaining a Rinsta (their curated supposed real Instagram account) along with the private Finsta, but it shows that kids get the public social nature of life online and a private more personal version for only those close to you.
Consider the very ill-advised comments/posts/shares adults and parents have made on Facebook, and I think you can relax knowing that just like you knew how to pull the wool over your parents' eyes while staying relatively safe, your kids know how to do the same.
This summary of the significant elements to arguably the world #1 photo social platform and 15th most visited website illustrates how well they have filled a gap.
For all the positive reinforcement the jury is still out on what posting, viewing and liking content could do to us. A concern is that if you post something that is meaningful to you but it doesn’t get many likes you may take it down again to find something better. Only a small group of your followers will see your posts because there are so many posted. Posts you choose to like will result in more posts like that appearing. With many following brands which are willing to spend to promote posts and ensure they post good ones, you may be left feeling your life is just not that interesting. Yet we still chase the rush of a post that gets lots of likes.
Getting followers too can become an unhealthy obsession. It is not something inherent to Instagram, but apps like it are built to tap into our need for social acceptance and compliance. Comments too can be damaging although that has improved a lot and is arguably much better than you would expect on other platforms like Twitter.
For all the insecurity and failures that are a part of it, it is remarkable that the two founders (neither of whom are 35 yet) run a company that has yet to reach double digits in age but have achieved so much. It has in the words of Steve Jobs "put a little dent in the universe".