Instagram, The Full Stack Media Platform
Instagram’s latest product release, Layout, seems pretty light at first. Users stitch together photos into a variety of collages. It’s well done, but it’s not a dramatic evolution in any sense.
The most important part of the release might just be that it continued to shed light on Instagram’s plan to dominate the entire mobile media landscape.
To borrow the buzz phrase of today, it’s looking more and more like Instagram wants to be a “full stack” mobile media platform. They want to own every aspect of mobile media.
They’re showing that they’re willing to go in a number of directions to achieve this.
They’re going wide, building products around Instagram, rather than within Instagram. They’re tooling up, having a solution for every possible touch point of the media process. And they’re reinventing media formats altogether, introducing entirely new ones.
Here’s how they’re trying to do this:
Instagram largely rose due to their Filters and their ability to make anyone become a pretty decent photographer. They haven’t rested after Filters, however, taking a number of important steps to improve the creation step since:
- Advanced Editing Tools — Launched in Spring 2014, allowing people to go deeper with tools like Sharpening or Highlights.
- Hyperlapse — Later in 2014, Instagram released Hyperlapse, a time-lapse creation tool. This was significant in that it was Instagram’s first stand alone app, and it was a tool that facilitated an entirely new media format that no one else was doing well on mobile.
- Layout — With Layout, Instagram has returned to photo tools and has decided to try and own the creation of one of the most popular styles of photos posted to Instagram.
Discovery is key for Instagram to continue to grow the social network aspect of their platform and to keep users coming back more often, for longer (read: advertising revenue).
Their largest step forward in achieving this came in a Spring 2014 release which saw a significant overhaul of the “Explore” feed. Finally, the photos that showed up here had some logic and relevance (example: photo many of your friends liked but you haven’t seen) and weren’t simply spammy, top photos.
Instagram has shown flexibility in trying different formats than the standard feed model that has worked so well for it. Take Direct as proof. Launched in late 2013, the model allows people to send photos to specific individuals rather than publish in the standard one to many model.
Instagram wants to be everywhere. They have made this clear by being an early app on the Apple watch.
Why this approach?
- A way to keep up with competitors: Instagram’s pattern so far has been to respond to competition by baking in key features into their own platform. As SnapChat rose, Instagram quietly slipped in Direct Photos. When VSCO, a powerful photo editing app, gained traction, Instagram simply added a few more photo editing tools to match VSCO’s depth.
- Feeds into revenue and user growth: Being everywhere for everyone means increased frequency and breadth of use; key elements necessary for large-scale monetization, which Instagram continues to march towards.
- In line with Facebook strategy: Facebook is taking a page from the 178 year-old Cincinnati giant Proctor & Gamble to build a “house of brands.” Instagram seems to be on the same track in building branded offerings for a variety of people and a variety of use cases that then feed back into Instagram, seemingly as an after-thought.
What Steps of the Stack Remain?
If Instagram has already made significant steps to own Creation, Discovery, Channels, and Distribution, what steps of the “full stack mobile photo platform” remain? Some possibilities:
- Rediscovery — TimeHop has owned this for the past few years. Carousel recently got in the game, and Instagram’s parent company, Facebook is wading into this space now, too.
- Storage — We’re taking more photos than ever on our mobile phones, yet most never make it out of our devices. Will Instagram offer a photo storage solution to sneak in closer to your library of content?
- Video — There’s been so much movement in this space as of late, and it still feels so massive and up-for-grabs. Vine is working on a small corner of the market. Periscope is certainly one of the most exciting products of recent memory. Plenty of teams are trying to make video editing, often a tiresome task, easy.
- Goods — Companies like PrintStudio have built impressive product offerings around the Instagram platform. Instagram, of course, is in the best position to remove all friction and make it easy to purchase physical goods.
Instagram is making it clear that it is not content with simply being a social network for photos. Like it’s big brother, it has aspirations to have a deep and wide footprint. Imagine any corner of the mobile media landscape, and there’s a good chance that Instagram will have a way to try and reach it sooner rather than later.
I'm building Bamboo, a user acquisition agency focused on helping mobile products grow.
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