In January 2012 I started writing a blog post, which I never got round to publishing, called ‘Instagram – the rise of a mobile giant?’.

After the news last week that Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion in cash and shares, I think I can well and truly take the question mark off the end of the title of this post.

So how has this addictive photo sharing app become so successful in such a short space of time?

Millions of passionate users

Popular on Instagram

Popular on Instagram

Instagram (often shortened to IG by users) has had a steady rise in users since its launch in October 2010.

By January 2012, it had attracted 15 million users in 15 months. This figure rocketed up to 27 million in March 2012. What’s remarkable about Instagram’s success is that until this time, it was only available for iPhone and other Apple iOS devices.In April 2012, a much awaited Androidrelease rolled out. Within the first 12 hours of Instagram being available on Google Play, it had been downloaded more than 1 million times, pushing user numbers past the 30 million mark.

Unlike other social networks that claim millions of users (Google+ anyone?) Instagram’s users, ‘IGers’, are for the most part, active, if not madly passionate.I remember in March 2011 it only took around 30 likes for your photo to be featured on Instagram’s ‘Popular’ section. Now photos need to have hundreds, if not thousands of likes to qualify.


Instagram filter screen with Hipstamatic photo

Anyone for filters?

The beauty of Instagram lies in its simplicity. Take a new photo or choose one from your smartphone, add an ‘old school’ filter if desired, add a caption, share it with the other users on IG or other social networks.

The intuitive nature of the app is due to two reasons. Firstly, it has a simple, well thought out design. It has been tweaked with updates and new features several times over the last 14 months I have been using it.

Secondly, it has features and terminology in common with other social networks. Like Twitter, Instagram lets you follow other users and be followed, and the use of hashtags is wide spread.

Like Facebook, IG allows you to like and comment on photos.

Liking is done with a quick double tap on photos as they scroll across your screen. This is photo sharing for the post-pc world.

Not just mobile photography

You can pretty much upload anything you like to Instagram. While there are debates raging about whether only mobile photography is in the true spirit of Instagram, there are plenty of users who also share photos from their DSLRs and other cameras.

Other images that people share include quotes, sayings, photo collages and photos of their favourite celebrities. Competitions are widespread and all sorts of mobile photography collectives have grown in popularity.

A true mobile experience

Instagram comments

Nice comments from IGers

Instagram has been so successful because it was designed for the booming mobile app market. The way we use the Internet is changing and its creators took advantage of this. Other social networks have added a mobile version after their web offering, but IG is a native mobile app.

It is a fantastic example of how mobile apps are changing the way we access the Internet – Instagram doesn’t even have a fully functional website. It’s really only for editing account details and I bet most users aren’t even aware it exists at  If you wish to see your Instagram photos on the web, you need to use a 3rd party site such as or for even more bells and whistles, is a great site (though recent API changes have stopped them displaying some statistics).

Instagram’s success in the mobile photo space has also been due to incumbent market leaders not being suited enough for mobile. Flickr just didn’t ‘get’ mobile photo sharing. Their clunky mobile app is appalling and strips out many of the good features of Flickr. On mobile offerings of Facebook, you can like and add comments to photos, though with so many other features to pack into their app, they haven’t done photos anywhere near as well as Instagram.

4 examples of how Instagram has improved its user interface over the last year

As I mentioned above, Instagram’s developers keep improving and tweaking the user experience for IGers. Here are 4 examples.

Liking photos

Back in the old days you had to click the heart icon underneath a photo to like it. Later in 2011, IG introduced double tap to like. Brilliant!

@ mentioning a user

You always receive notifications for comments left on your photos. However, when you reply to someone, you need to @ mention them otherwise they won’t receive a notification. This used to be done by typing out the users name – but if you misspelled it they never got the notification that you had left a comment for them. Now simply press and hold the users name and tap ‘mention user’.
It's nice getting notifications :)

It’s nice getting notifications

Cropping photos

Instagram now places square photos right in the middle of the crop box automatically. I was so happy to see this improvement. Before this it was 10 seconds or so of trying to move the photo around to get it in the centre of the crop box!

Better sharing

With a few taps, I can now share my photos on Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and with email recipients. Other services currently supported are Posterous and Foursquare.

My (revised) prediction

In my first blog post 6 predictions for the web and social media in 2012 I predicted Instagram would grow from 15 million users to 45 million users by the end of 2012. Now that the Android version has been rolled out,  IG could easily soar past the 70 million mark by the year’s end. With Facebook buying Instagram, all the usual talk of people quitting the app has started. I doubt this will affect user numbers though, unless they do something silly and start messing with their terms and conditions.

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  1. […] Instagram – the rise of a mobile giant by Matt Murray. Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestMoreEmailRedditPrintDiggStumbleUponTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in apps, customer service, photography, private sector, social media and tagged Instagram by weeklyblogclub. Bookmark the permalink. […]


  2. […] year that the very popular photography app Instagram would grow a lot, but in his Week 16 post – Instagram – the rise of a mobile giant – he had to revise his estimate for Instagram’s success this year. He also explains why […]


  3. Interesting post, I hadn’t realised all the improvements they’ve made. Thanks 🙂


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