Photo: Om Malik via Instagram
There’s plenty of competition right now for startups who want to be the biggest mobile photo-sharing app, even though no one knows for sure if that’s a real market or if this functionality will be taken over by Facebook or even Foursquare. You have companies like the heavily funded Picplz or Path, started by entrepreneurial stars and aimed at regular folks. But by far the “hottest” one has been Instagram.Instagram lets you take pictures and then apply filters to them to make them like cool (?) retro photos.
To be honest, I really dislike Instagram. I think it makes every picture look like every other picture and I think faux 70s photos on iPhones is like something The Onion would invent to make fun of Brooklyn hipsters.
But I do have one datapoint that suggest the company might actually have hit upon something big. The problem with retro filters on photos is that even though it can be fun to play around, it seems to appeal only to a limited demographic of young, urban types who like this sort of stuff. And yet something happened that’s making me think it could go mainstream.
Yesterday night I had a good friend over for dinner. Among other things I showed him my iPad. After checking out a few apps, he said “Oh, wait! Do you have that app that makes photos like polaroids?”
“Huh? Wait… You mean Instagram?”
He’d never used the app but he’d heard of it. I showed it to him and he instagrammed everything. Me, my coffee table, my walls, my books. Had a blast with it.
And keep in mind this friend is, sure, a young urban male, but he’s a total non-techie — he’s an actor. And he lives in France, not New York or San Francisco. He’s not on Twitter, never logs on Facebook, and has only the vaguest idea what Foursquare is. He qualifies as a Normal.
This small datapoint is telling me two things. First of all, Instagram is truly going “viral”, in the true sense of the world: people who are using it are talking about it to people who are not, who want to check it out. That’s the best form of marketing there is, and it’s the kind of momentum that’s often very hard to break. Second of all, Normals who do use Instagram often end up hooked, at least judging by a first enthusiastic 5 minute session.
So yes, even though it pains me a little to say so, Instagram looks like it could be huge one day.
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