People who have been following social media for the last few years will remember Friendfeed, the service that Facebook bought for about $50 million a couple of years ago. It was one of their famous Acqui-Hires where they spend a lot of money mainly for the engineering talent behind the company.
The interesting thing was how they took out a competitor that people were starting to use, before rebuilding their entire site using that talent and making Facebook a better place. Friendfeed was only being used by a handful of geeks, but its real time nature didn't go unnoticed. Back then, Facebook was an incredibly static website, but it really isn't any exaggeration to say that we are all Friendfeed users today even though we do it on the Facebook website.
Real time comments, likes and elements like the ticker that we all know and love were born out of the Friendfeed team. This means that Facebook ultimately inherited a better service and the Friendfeed guys get to have close to a billion people using their products. Everybody's a winner.
So onto Instagram. The dust has more or less settled now and it is time to start asking what Facebook will do with the company and how they will fold it into their existing services. I don't think we will see a Friendfeed type strategy this time. I think Facebook will leave it as its own app and there is a serious chance that Instagram will become as big if not bigger than Facebook itself. I realize that is a huge statement to make, but Instagram has everything it needs to rival Facebook's own success.
The key is that it is lightweight, mobile and incredibly social. People absolutely love sharing photos and right now, there is no better place to do that than on Instagram. It really is a beautiful experience and because it has been built from the ground up, they have a huge advantage over Facebook. Although Facebook has made some great improvements on their mobile offerings, the app is still fairly painful to use. You don't get the same slick immersive experience that you do when you fire up Instagram.
I really wouldn't be surprised if in two or three years time, Instagram was the main place that we all accessed Facebook through. They'll add other features and get to 500 million users without a doubt. They're at the very tip of their development cycle with new additions like a website, iPad app and additional features all sure to be delivered faster, now that they have a wad of cash and resources. The last time I felt this level of community, growth and interaction and got so excited about something was Facebook and Twitter in their early days. Facebook made the right call on this one to such an extent that Instagram might just be the new Facebook.
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