Facebook-owned Instagram announced today that Stories is now used by 500 million users daily. The Snapchat clone is now seen as an important avenue for Instagram’s ambition to become a shopping platform. Speaking to the media in Mumbai, Vishal Shah, VP of Products at Instagram said Explore, Stories and Shopping are three key elements of the photo-sharing platform. Instagram was co-founded as a photo-sharing service by Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom in 2010. The service turned nine this month and is widely seen as a beacon in Facebook’s family of applications.
Like every other company, India forms an important market for Instagram as well. It is competing against Snapchat, which has caught up big time with its revamped application and an array of engaging filters. While Snapchat dominates a filter heavy messaging service, Instagram wants to be a place for engaging with friends and shop at the same time. Shah said Instagram’s mission is to “bring users closer to the people and things they love.” Since it’s acquisition by Facebook in 2012, Instagram has evolved into more than a photo-sharing service.
Is Shopping the next big thing for Instagram
It’s future is one where the service wants to be your one stop shop for, yes, SHOPPING. “I’m excited about shopping, but not because it’s good for the Instagram ecosystem. I’m excited about it because people are excited about shopping,” Vishal Shah told reporters here. When it comes to shopping, Shah says Instagram wants to solve the problem of window shopping. Shopping on Instagram currently works in three ways: shopping tags, shopping ads and in app purchase. While shopping tags and shopping ads are prominent, direct purchase is still being tested.
The current experience clearly circles around discovering product and then buying it from the merchant’s website. However, Instagram wants to be the place where people discover products and buy them directly. “The idea is that when you are excited to buy something, we should make it easier for you. Because right now, it’s about going to mobile website putting in your credentials or credit card or your debit card. And that’s a very tedious process, especially doing it over and over,” Shah explains. “So there’s a clear consumer benefit. We also want to make sure people trust that they can buy from Instagram. If they have a bad experience with even one brand that’s ruining their experience for everything.”
In order to make shopping even more inclusive, Instagram wants to let advertisers get their shopping product in front of more people. One way Instagram thinks shopping can be more personal is by using augmented reality. The company is already testing ways to try to make up products using augmented reality. While one can choose a shade of lipstick on Instagram now, Shah thinks an option to try in real-time would give it a visual edge. The feature is still in its early stages of testing and uses the front camera. But Shah adds that his company is considering using the rear camera as well. On modern smartphones, users can already take advantage of 3D depth camera to play games. Instagram can tap into that sensor to enable 3D try-on experience. Shah does not seem to be a fan of Instagram building its own payment system but he didn’t rule out the possibility.
Reaching out to Indian content creators
While Instagram is experimenting with shopping in the US, it is reaching out to content creators in India. Content is the king and there is no denying that fact. In that sense, Instagram is fighting Snapchat, YouTube and other local players for talent. Instagram today announced Born on Instagram, an initiative to discover creators all across the country. India is a young country. A report by the Ministry of Statistics projects that nearly 50 percent of the population will be in the age group of 15 to 34 years by 2021. With Indians coming online for the first time, Instagram sees an opportunity to tap the talent early.
It is also launching a content series called Unlabel that highlights the Instagram community. “Instagram is gaining strong momentum both globally and in India. Much like Indian culture, passions pursued by Instagrammers here are the most diverse and represent urban and regional trends. This, combined with the way people freely express themselves on the platform, creates an amazing opportunity for creators and businesses here,” Shah said.
Forget Chronological Feed
Shah also said that Instagrammers can forget about getting chronological feed back. He adds users could not see 70 percent of the content because of the chronological feed. This forced users to post more frequently regardless of quality of content. Shah says feed ranking gives “incentives to build great content”. However, Instagram might add a toggle similar to Twitter at a later stage allowing users to see chronological posts. “The amount of inventory that people are consuming from their closest friends is now at an all time high. So, it is just good for the ecosystem.”
While Facebook and WhatsApp are stung by controversies, Instagram remains immune from its parents’ problems. Some analysts even see that Instagram can be worth over $100 billion if Facebook decides to spin it off. While the service continues to look for new ways to monetize the platform, it is also putting user well being at the front. Instagram has begun to hide likes count on posts as a way to put focus on sharing. “People feel a lot of pressure on posting to Instagram, competing with themselves, competing with their friends, competing with the biggest celebrities in the world,” Shah says explaining the rationale behind the move. “And we don’t want people to feel like it’s a contest. Instagram should be about expression.”
Like counts have been part of Instagram from the beginning but the company is not afraid of getting rid of it. It is also building new tools to make Instagram and wants to help creators fight against online bullying. “Bullying is a problem that is acute with young people. It manifests not just online but in their offline and real world relationships as well. And so we built the tools to think through real world implications of their use,” Shah said. First tool is called comment warning, which warns users when their comment might be construed as harmful or or bullying in nature. The second is restrict, which givers users visibility into their bully. It also gives users control over what a bully can do to you. “So when you put them on your restricted When they comment on something of yours or mentioned you in a comment, you have to approve that comment before it gets posted,” he explained.
What does Instagram want to be?
Shah says Instagram wants to be simple, easy to use application for sharing photos. While Systrom and Krieger have left, the culture remains the same to offer a compelling visual storytelling platform. While users share photos, it wants to monetize their times by offering ads on the platform. Now, it wants to take that a step further by turning the ad experience into a shopping experience. If you ask Shah, he thinks Instagram should be a place that is not afraid of unshipping products. It is easy to ship new products or services in the technology space but unshipping them is difficult. Earlier this year, Instagram unshipped the ‘following’ tab in a controversial move. It says Explore is a better place to find new accounts without the ramifications of following tab. The company wants to keep the app simple but the question is for how long before Facebook enters with its own ambitions.