Christie Hemm Klok | The New York Times
Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom, left, and Mike Krieger, at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., April 24, 2017. Instagram, now with 700 million users, resembles Facebook in 2009 to 2012, when it went from being something people used occasionally to something they use every day.
This is difficult to quantify. My subjective experience may not match yours (lots of people, for example, say they hate the new ranked feed). But for me, Instagram’s many changes have made for a social network that feels more useful, interesting and fun than it was last year. Part of it is the new features themselves, but a bigger reason is the greater use that the features have inspired. Networks are better when more people use them more often; the more I’ve used Instagram recently, the more stuff I’ve seen from more people, and the more I want to use it some more.
Instagram has thus triggered an echo — it feels like Facebook. More precisely, it feels the way Facebook did from 2009 to 2012, when it silently crossed over from one of those tech things that some people sometimes did to one of those tech things that everyone you know does every day.
In some ways, this is not surprising. Instagram has been growing like crazy essentially since it went live in 2010, and under Facebook — which bought the company for $1 billion five years ago — it has had ample resources to keep that up. But with 700 million users, it’s in virtually uncharted territory.
There are bigger networks: Facebook has nearly two billion users a month, and two instant-messaging apps owned by Facebook, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have grown past the one-billion-user mark. In China, WeChat also has more users.
But last year, you might have said there was a question whether a picture-based service like Instagram could have reached similar scale — whether it was universal enough, whether there were enough people whose phones could handle it, whether it could survive greater competition from newer photo networks like Snapchat. Maybe those problems or others will rear up in the future, and growth could yet stall. But for now, Instagram seems to have overcome any perceived hurdles. It seems to have reached escape velocity.
Mr. Systrom said this plan to rapidly speed up Instagram’s pace of change to attract more users was deliberate.
“The primary reason we’ve scaled more quickly in the last 100 million is that we’ve figured out that as we’ve scaled, we’ve had to unbreak ourselves,” he said. What he meant was that Instagram systematically analyzed all the bottlenecks to its service and tried to eliminate them. Then it looked for potential opportunities to better serve users and tried to put them in place as fast as possible.
This sounds trivial — aren’t all companies looking to constantly improve? — but social networks are sometimes held hostage by their most loyal users, who tend to hate change (cough, Twitter, cough). Facebook bucked that trend; as it grew, it constantly adapted its features to become more things to more people. Mr. Systrom is following the same playbook.
“My favorite thing to ask the team is, how large do you think Instagram will be eventually?” he said. “Usually you get to some large number, and it’s definitely more than two times the size we are now. So I can confidently say that most of the people who’ll eventually use Instagram don’t use Instagram now.”