As an early user of instagram back in October of 2010, I have gotten to witness the fast rise of instagram from a nascent network of technology savvy photographers to a mass-consumer global phenomenon. What follows is my own personal take on the key product decisions that drove instagram’s early growth and helped catapult it to the number #1 mobile photo sharing app in record time.
1. Public by default – Instagram smartly chose very early on to have the default privacy state of user’s photos as public. This was a bold move at the time, considering that up until this point, most mobile photo apps did not surface photos to other users by default without explicitly asking for permission to do so. With this move, instagram allowed people to discover other people through their photos in the popular section, which was the main means of distribution and source of followers in the early days of the service.
2. Asymetric follow model – While they weren’t the first ones to use this model, and while it was obviously the right move in hindsight, modeling their follower model after twitter instead of after facebook was a key move by instagram to speed up the acceleration of growth of each users network, by allowing them to follow and be followed by people they might not know offline.
3. Using speed as a weapon – A key, but often overlooked driver of instagram’s early success and growth was in large part driven by the speed of the service, both real, and perceived. By using techniques like Loading Content Based On Importance, Not Order, Always ‘Pretending to work’ and Anticipating The User’s Every Move, Instagram was able to create a pleasurably quick experience around uploading and viewing photos that was far ahead of other competitors at the time.
Recently Instagram’s co-founder Mike Krieger lifted the curtain on three of their backend (and UI) tricks that give the Instagram user a feeling of responsiveness.
4. Cross-network posting – By deciding to play nice with other services like twitter and facebook, instagram was able to leverage the distribution of some very large existing platforms to help accelerate the growth of its service in the early days.