When I first saw the numbers I was astounded. That Facebook would pay $1 billion for Instagram, a company with 13 employees that has only been around for 2 or so years and has $0 revenue seems, well, crazy. Then some of the other numbers start to roll in. Most important among them is that Instagram has 30 million users. It’s this number that justified the purchase for Facebook along with the fact that Instagram is essentially a competing social network – and a rapidly growing one at that. I won’t go any further than that on the analysis of the business transaction. What’s interesting, however, is that Instagram is a mobile application – and only a mobile application.
The bright minds at Instagram realized that what people are doing with their phones besides texting and talking is taking (and sharing) pictures. The folks at Facebook surely realize this as well. All you need to do is look at the content that is being shared on their service, pictures. And lots of them. Sure, the social media giant has a mobile application that allows you to share pictures, too, but they hadn’t yet thought through the entire experience. This is where you’ll find most failed attempts to capitalize on mobile.
When mobile, people are in a very different situation. They have little time to fuss with complicated apps and they are distracted by a dozen other things. They are also very focused on the task at hand, which is where the phrase, “There’s an app for that,” comes from. People have a task and they look for a way to get that task done. It is also an imperfect environment for doing things really well, like capturing that momentary nuance of the sunset as it glances off the shiny downtown buildings. Instagram nailed both of these.
Their app does two things. It lets you take and share pictures and it allows you to correct for the natural imperfections of mobile photography by applying filters and other masking treatments. They also automatically add white borders reminiscent of the instant Polaroid pictures of the past and crop the image as square rather than the typical rectangle. Through focus on creating a great mobile experience around a familiar task, Instagram found appeal from a large audience and captured a part of the social culture that Facebook just wasn’t able to pull off.
I wonder what other business will be Instagramed?