Instagram Essay

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Instagram is a location-based social network mobile application for sharing  photos  and videos. This  service  allows  users  to  apply  digital  filters and share their photos  and videos on other  social networks and social media platforms. The service was founded  by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in San Francisco,  California, and  officially launched  exclusively for the iPhone on October 6, 2010.  The  original  name  of the  application was Burbn, which aimed to combine several characteristics of popular social  media  services like Foursquare.  When  Krieger joined  the project,  the two programmers  decided   to   focus   exclusively   on photo  sharing.

Instagram  is a combination of “instant camera” and  “telegram.” Systrom  and  Krieger  wanted  to relive  the  nostalgia  of  snapshots popularized by Polaroid  and  Kodak  Instamatic, in  a  digital  format. The photos  uploaded to the mobile  application  are  converted   to  a  square   shape,  different from  the  4:3  aspect  ratio  used  by mobile  device cameras.   In  addition  to  this  distinctive   feature, users  can  apply  different  manipulation tools  to alter images. Instagram offers 20 filters that  transform the lighting and tone of the photographs.

Users can follow  other  users’ feeds, “like”  and comment  on images, and  connect  their  Instagram account  to other social networking sites and share photos.  Instagram has an embedded  feature that is location based, which enables users to add geolocated data  to their content.  Adding geographical identification metadata on Instagram attaches  economic  and  social  value  to  the  content  because  it makes  it  more  searchable. In  January   2011,  the service added hashtags as a new feature, following the trend of Twitter.  Instagram encourages  users to use specific and  relevant  tags in order  to discover photos  and other  users on the platform. Hashtags also contributed to the creation  of several communities of interest,  and to the large-scale dissemination of photographs. Web profiles were created  in 2012,  allowing  users  to  use  their  account  like a social network Web site. Instagram has gone from a location-based social  photo-sharing application to a location-based social network application. In June  2013,   Instagram  added   a  new  feature   for sharing  15-second  videos. In August  2014, Instagram released  Hyperlapse. This new application enables users to create time-lapse  videos.

The platform reached  1 million users in December  2010.  In June  2011,  Instagram’s  users were already 5 million, and that number doubled in September of that  year. The company  revealed that 150 million photographs had been uploaded to its service as of August  2011.  Facebook  acquired  the service  in  April  2012  and  announced that  more than 30 million accounts have been set up on Instagram. In the summer of 2014,  the statistics  of the  platform  revealed   200   million   active  users (65 percent from outside the United States), 20 billion photos  shared, 1.6 billion “likes”  per day, and an  average  of  60  million  photos  uploaded daily. The   statistics   also   show   that   68   percent   of Instagram’s  users are women and that the accounts are equally divided, with 50-percent  iPhone owners and 50-percent  Android  owners.

Instagram  updated its terms of service on December 17, 2012,  and granted  itself the right to sell user’s photos  without any notification or compensation. Instagram was prompted to issue a statement retracting the controversial terms by millions of users, among them the National Geographic Society. Following  the announcement, users switched to other photo-sharing services, like Pheed and Flickr. Consequently, Instagram has changed  its  terms  of  use, correcting  the  issue of authorship and ownership of photographs.

Content contribution and  collaboration by the members  is critical  to  the  viability  of Instagram. Several  studies  argue  that   users’  motivations to cocreate   can   be  individual   and   related   to   the network structure. Users who are structurally embedded  have a high number  of ties to others  in a network and are likely to have a greater  level of sharing. Commitment, self-development, and reputation   are  individual   motivations  correlated  to photo  sharing.

The  economics  of sharing  photos  is based  on the  collective  intelligence  of  consumers   and  the idea that  the consumer  is a cocreator of value, an active  agent  and  a resource.  Instagram promotes mass  collaboration  through  user-generated content.  As cocreation is a  social  process  based  on collaboration and interaction between people, sharing  photos  involves  users  in  the  creation  of value through thematic  communities and network ties.

Companies use Instagram not only to encourage users to share photos but also to create engagement with brands,  generate traffic to Web sites, establish a  visual  image  for  products and  services,  index content  via hashtags,  create interactive  campaigns with   hashtags,   and   promote  competition.  The MTV television channel  uses Instagram to present the backstage  of its programs. Nike uses Instagram to  show  pictures   of  people   exercising   with   its brand  products. The profile of Starbucks  publishes pictures  tagged by fans through hashtags.

Politicians  use Instagram to reach out to voters in  a  more   personal   way   through  photos   and videos. President  Barack Obama has 4 million followers and a “Thank you” photo  on election night with  294  thousand likes.  Many  celebrities  share photos  and  videos  of  their  personal  and  professional lives with fans. The media use Instagram to promote closer  ties  with  their  audiences  and  to disseminate  visual content.  Photographers, anonymous citizens, and civic organizations also use Instagram to publicize  photos,  communicate with friends,  and  promote causes.  Gramforacause and Gramming for Good are startups that use Instagram to  connect   photographers  with   nonprofits  and help   spread   social   and   environmental  causes through photography.

In some countries,  Instagram is already  showing ads  in the  feeds of users. The  advertising  on the platform will be gradual  and will present sponsored publications.


  1. Al-Bahrani, Abdullah and Darshak Patel. “Incorporating Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook  in Economics  Classrooms.” Journal of Economic Education, v.66/1 (June 1, 2014). abstract=2483255 (Accessed August 2014).
  2. Bernstein, Harry. “Photographers on Instagram” (April 24, 2012). slideshows/2012-04-23/photographers-oninstagram#slide7 (Accessed August 2014).
  3. Hochman, Nadav and Lev Manovich. “Zooming Into an Instagram City: Reading the Local Through Social Media.” First Monday, v.18/7 (2013).
  4. Wasko, Molly McLure  and Samer Faraj. “Why  Should I Share? Examining  Social Capital  and Knowledge Contribution in Electronic  Networks of Practice.”  MIS Quarterly, v.29/1 (2005).
  5. Zwass, Vladimir. “Co-Creation: Toward a Taxonomy and an Integrated Research ” International Journal of Electronic  Commerce, v.15/1 (2010).

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