The founders took over a whiteboard in one of Dogpatch Labs’ conference rooms. They did a brainstorm that would serve as the basis for their entire philosophy. First, ask what problem they were solving. Then, try to solve it in the simplest way possible.
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger started the exercise by making a list of the top three things people loved about BURBN.
The first was Maps, the feature that let people say where they were going so their friends could join them. The other was photos. The third was a tool allowing you to win virtual prizes of no interest to your activity, which was mostly a gimmick to get people to reconnect.
Not everyone needed plans or prices. Kevin Systrom circled “photos.” Photos, they decided, are omnipresent and useful to everyone, not just young city dwellers.
“There’s something about the photos,” Kevin said. His iPhone 3G took terrible photos, but that was just the beginning of the technology.
Anyone with a smartphone would be an amateur photographer if they wanted to be.
Photography At The Heart Of The Reaction Of The Social Network
So, if photos were the main feature of the app they needed to create, what were the main possibilities? On the whiteboard, Systrom and Krieger brainstormed three of the main issues to solve.
First, images still took forever to load on 3G cellular networks. Second, people were often embarrassed to share their low-quality photos because phones are not as good as digital cameras. Third, it wasn’t enjoyable to have to post photos in many different places.
What if they created a mobile app that offered the ability to distribute your photos to Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all at once? It would be easier to use the new social giants than to compete with them. Instead of having to build a network from scratch, the app could simply rely on already-established communities.
Instagram was first called Scotch.
Their prototype was named Scotch, a name relating to bourbon. It allowed people to browse photos horizontally and tap to enjoy them. It’s a bit like Tinder before the intestine.
They used it for a few days before returning to BURNS’ idea. Then, they tried a new concept that allowed people to scroll through photos vertically by displaying the most recent message first, like on Twitter.
The story of Instagram is also a story of pixels.
All photos would use as few pixels as possible so they load quickly. This would solve problem number one: just 306 pixels wide, the minimum required to display a photo on an iPhone with 7-pixel borders on each side.
The photos would have a square format, which would give users the same creative constraint for photography that Systrom’s professor in Florence gave him.
It’s a bit like Twitter only allowing people to tweet in bursts of 140 characters. This would help solve, but only partially, problem number two.
Kevin Systrom And Mike Krieger Took Inspiration From Facebook And Twitter
There were two types of social networks you could create: the Facebook type, where people become mutual friends. Or the Twitter type, where people follow other people they don’t necessarily know.
They thought the latter would be more fun for photos. People could then follow based on interests, not just friendship.
Twitter Greatly Inspired Them
By displaying “Followers” and “Following” at the top of the app, like Twitter did, we made the app competitive enough that people would need to come back and check their progress. People could also “like” something by adding a heart, like Facebook’s thumbs-up.
Liking was much easier with this new app because you could do it by double-clicking an entire photo instead of looking for a small button to click. And unlike Twitter and Facebook, no one on this new app needed to come up with something intelligent to say. All they had to do was post a photo of what they saw around them.
If Systrom and Krieger wanted to copy Twitter’s concepts completely, it would be obvious, at this point, to add a share button to help the content go viral as the retweet did. But the founders hesitated.
If what people were sharing on this app was photography, would it make sense to allow users to share other people’s art and experiences under their name? Maybe. But in the interest of a simple startup, they decided not to think about it until post-launch.
The story of Instagram: the logo
They chose a logo: a version of a white Polaroid camera. But what to call it? The theme of alcohol without vowels was becoming too cute.
Something like WHISKEY wouldn’t need to explain what the app is for. So they started the discussion, calling it “Codename.”
Instagram Filters Added Thanks To Kevin Systrom’s Wife
Soon after, Systrom and his girlfriend and future wife, Nicole Schuetz, whom he had met at Stanford, vacationed in a village in Baja California Sur, Mexico, called TODOS SANTOS, with its picturesque sandy beaches.
White and its cobbled streets. During one of their sea walks, she warned him that she probably wouldn’t use his new app. None of the photos on his smartphone were good, at least not as good as those of their friend Hochmuth.
“He just takes good pictures,” she said.
Phone cameras produced blurry, poorly lit images. It was as if everyone who bought a smartphone received the digital equivalent of the tiny plastic camera Systrom used in Florence.
Filtering apps allowed users to take a similar approach to Systrom’s professor, editing photos after they were taken to make them look more artistic.