24 June 2012

Photography in the Instagram Age

About a 100 years ago, Eastman Kodak launched the Brownie Box for a pricely sum of $2 with ad copy that read:
"Any school boy or girl can make good pictures with the Brownie Camera." 
A tall claim, when photography was really cumbersome, complicated and costly.

While the Brownie's image quality was obviously dubious, through contests, photo clubs and prints for pennies, it gave birth to photography as a social activity. It's estimated nearly 1 in 3 Americans owned a Brownie at it's peak, and those who didn't couldn't avoid the ones who carried their 'Brownies' and were trading snaps for their scrap books. 

The key point was by transforming how people engaged with photography, Kodak transformed how they engaged with one another. Basically shared experiences no longer had to be experienced together.

Cut to a 100 years later, and Eastman Kodak, which pioneered the social sharing of pictures, cuts a sorry business story.

While Instagram, the one pioneering the digital Brownie movement in the midst of the battle of the megapixels, sensor sizes, interchangeable lenses and multi-functional compacts,  just had a  billion+ $s thrust at it. 
And as with the Eastman Kodak Brownie, image quality on Instagram is secondary to the social nexus it helps support.

A few reasons why Instagram already has close to 30 millions users, even though it's just launched outside of the iOS platforms:

  1. In an age of information overload, pictures are the easiest way to convey and grasp information. Before you had to text, email or upload a photo from a phone camera. Instragram  made it intuitive, easy & seamless to both capture & share images.
  2. The light level of profile data on Instragram lowers the barrier to interact with a wider community of photography enthusiasts. Not only is Instagram a social network by itself, you can also post to other networks.
  3. But the real secret for Instagram's rapid adoption and success are the 17 or so pre-programmed filters which are cleverly designed to distract the eye from amateur compositional errors through exaggerations & flares. These clever filters make average shots look good and good shots stunning and noticeable. Filters also help add a layer of emotion & alter the mood of the pictures for a personal touch.  All of which make Instagrams good conversational starters & topics in today's socially connected world.
Despite it's current momentum and single focus, Instagram has it's glitches and it's users are wary of the recent Facebook takeover. Founder Systorm sees it as product in development and plans are being made for immediate future. 

The Eastman Kodak Brownie is being discussed a 100 years after the launch. How do you think we'd be talking of Instragram 10 years or even probably a year from now? Thoughts?

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