July 13, 2024

A Stream of Postcards, Shot by Phone

The rising star of these is Instagram, a start-up in San Francisco with just four employees. In eight months, the company has attracted close to five million users to its iPhone-only service — no doubt earning the envy of its more established rivals. And Instagram is steadily growing, adding about a million users a month.

The app emphasizes simplicity. Users can choose from a variety of special effects to layer over photos, sharpening the contrast or applying a vintage, weathered look. Then they upload the photo to their Instagram feed, forming a river of pictures, not unlike a photo-only version of Twitter.

As on Twitter, users can follow others to see what they are posting. They can also tap to “like” pictures and comment on them, making Instagram a slimmed-down social network. People snap and post pictures of anything, like pretty wallpaper at a restaurant or artsy close-ups of their cat climbing on the bed in the morning, offering a behind-the-scenes look at their lives.

Those who study the way people socialize online say cellphone photos are becoming an integral part of sharing and communicating.

“It’s another way to start a conversation online, and so much easier than sitting in front of a computer because it’s mobile,” said S. Shyam Sundar, the co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.

Professor Sundar said people once tended to take photos on special occasions, like birthdays and vacations, then post a big batch on services like Picasa and Flickr and share a link with friends. But with the introduction of smartphones with improved cameras, coupled with the rise of services like Facebook and Twitter, people are more accustomed to constantly documenting moments and sharing throughout the day.

“Instagram came on the scene right when people were beginning to work that into their regular broadcasting routine,” he said. “The convenience of a way to do it from your mobile phone — very easy.”

Kevin Systrom, a founder and the chief executive of Instagram, said the service’s early traction stemmed from its ability to make casual cellphone pictures look like works of art, with the help of filters.

“We set out to solve the main problem with taking pictures on a mobile phone,” he said, which is that they are often blurry or poorly composed. “We fixed that.”

The service has benefited from being easier to use than some of its rivals, said Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner. “You take a photo, add a filter, post it online,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of firing off a tweet; it doesn’t require much thought or effort.”

Mr. Blau said Instagram’s early emphasis on opening its service to outside developers had helped it spread. For example, the service has given rise to a healthy network of companies and applications that offer ways to turn your shared photos into photobooks, framed prints and postcards. “You have a whole work force of software developers and entrepreneurs building products on top of your product,” he said.

The service is also attracting celebrities, brands and news organizations that see it as a new and nuanced way to interact with an audience. News outlets including NPR, ABC News, National Geographic, MTV and NBC are using Instagram to share picture updates and give audiences an insider’s view of their operations.

Joe Ruffalo, a senior vice president at ABC News Digital, said the company was experimenting with delivering news photos on Instagram as a way to reach people on a more intimate level.

“It provides a very different perspective to our followers than what they encounter on the Web or TV,” he said. ABC News has about 26,000 followers on Instagram, far fewer than on Facebook and Twitter.

Snoop Dogg and Rosie O’Donnell are Instagrammers, and Jamie Oliver, the British chef, uploads pictures of the meals he makes at home, as well as reminders to watch his TV show.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=60b8b5e5ded8411038bd1c9ceb927eec

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