REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: A picture’s worth a billion
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Instagram. So what’s all the hype about? I remember when it launched in late 2010. Everyone – at least everyone with an iPhone, where the app made its exclusive debut – was talking about it. Eventually, I became one of the current 130 million-plus users to download the app after it became available on Android phones.
OK, it’s a photograph-sharing app that’s biggest selling point is a dreamy filter that makes every picture look like something shot in the Polaroid-crazed days of the 70s. Big deal.
Big deal is right. Start with the $1 billion Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly shelled out for the fledgling app with plenty of buzz but no business model. What would Facebook want with Instagram when its subscribers can already share pictures? The same thing Yahoo wanted when it bought out Flickr for $32 million in 2005 and Tumblr for $1.1 billion this year. The same reason Google snapped up the navigation/traffic application Waze for more than a billion dollars.
Instagram and its ilk has what big companies want: followers. These apps bring with them ready-made social clouds comprised of hundreds of millions of users – known to big corporations as “purchasers.” Social media giants also shell out big money for popular apps for two other reasons: to prevent their competitors from getting them and to remove any potential competition from the app itself.
In Instagram, Zuckerberg said he sees potential future development. What he really saw was tweeners sharing photos and reimagined micro-blogging going on without the need for Facebook. Instagram developers Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger cashed out because they kept it simple like Angry Birds and all the other new software that is headed to mobile phones instead of desktops and laptops.
Why Instagram? Why Justin Bieber? Who really knows what makes a commodity turn white hot. What drove Instagram-wannabes Pixlr-O-Matic, Lightbox Photos, and Streamzoo to the La Brea Tar Pits faster than the flip phone, Shop Boyz, and Microsoft?
The fact is how the average 12-year-old chooses to communicate in today’s touch-screen savvy world means everything to the suits and ties forever trying to react quick enough to make a buck.