Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger tells Madhumita Murgia about video, live-streaming and what’s next for the 5-year-old photo-sharing phenomenon
29-year-old Mike Krieger is still reeling from California-to-Europe jet lag, but when you ask him to recount the last five years, he perks up instantly.
Krieger has no trouble rattling through a list of highlights: in 2010, he quit his job to help a friend build an app for sharing photos. In 2015, that app – Instagram – is used by 400m people around the world, from David Beckham to the Dalai Lama and has immortalised moments from the Oscars, to Hurricane Katrina and outer space, in its signature square frames.
In the past five years, over 40 billion photos have been shared on Instagram, and 80m are being uploaded to the app every single day.
Five years in, Instagram has grown up. It was acquired by social networking giant Facebook in 2012 for $1bn, and since then has seen exponential growth in users, and launched three standalone apps.
Now, 75pc of its users live outside the United States where the app was born. “It’s really fascinating because it’s no longer a one size fits all approach,” Sao Paolo-born Krieger tells me. “Like Instagram Direct [a private inbox] is huge in Saudi Arabia, and in Kuwait, they are using Instagram to sell sheep!”
Instagram’s power-users tend to be teenagers, celebrities and models who use it to post polished, artfully arranged images of food, fashion and design.
At a Paris Fashion Week dinner hosted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour for Instagram, Wintour remarked, “Instagram has taught me so much about all of you here. Stella [McCartney], I know what flowers not to send you, Donatella [Versace], I would like to come back as your dog Audrey.”
The dinner was a testament to Instagram’s powerful position in our cultural zeitgeist.
But it’s not just a new visual medium: Instagram has evolved into a powerful way to record global events from millions of perspectives. In the 24 hours after the recent Paris attacks, the platform saw more than 70m people share their support and prayers for Parisians, through 430m photos, likes and comments.
A single image, artist J ean Julien’s simple “Peace for Paris” logo which was shared through the app, became a viral symbol of the attacks on the Internet. “We want to help people see the real world through Instagram,” Krieger told me.
To make Instagram into this real-time platform, CTO Krieger and his co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom have transformed it from a photo album into a live-streamed multimedia timeline of human life. Their primary weapon: video.
“I was scrolling through my feed down to photos from 2012 the other day, and I suddenly realised, ‘Oh this was before video, there’s no video in my feed,” Krieger says. “We just take it for granted now.”
It’s clear that video is a priority for Instagram as it builds out its future. And it’s not the only one who is betting on it.
As we all whip out our phones to capture a moment, there’s a battle for which app we choose to post on: Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, Vine for bite-sized clips. For longer, more crafted videos, YouTube is being elbowed by newcomers like Facebook.
Instagram is only just dipping its toes into this market. It started allowing users to share 15-second videos in 2013. A year later, they followed up by launching a standalone app called Hyperlapse, to record high-quality time lapse videos.
In the same year, Instagram began to allow video ads, which can now be upto 30 seconds long. “Video is really important to us,” Krieger says. “We are interested in the full spectrum from the still photo to the full-length video, and we’re trying to carve out a niche there.”
In June, Instagram revamped its Explore feature, which lays out the platform’s content by trending hashtags and location search, making it simpler to follow real-time events or trends.
During Halloween this year, the app showed its cards for the first time: it launched a curated video stream around the holiday, in a direct nod to rivals Snapchat and Twitter, whose curation tools known as Stories and Moments respectively, compile multimedia posts from sports or music events and holidays into a single, themed story.
“You could watch Halloween as it happened. It was almost like having a mini TV experience around Heidi Klum preparing her costume, or astronaut Scott Kelly on the International Space Station,” Krieger says. All the videos were curated by Instagram’s own editorial team.
In October this year, Instagram launched its second video app – Boomerang – to share gif-like videos that extend a photo just a few seconds beyond when it was captured.
The idea is to make really short clips, that don’t require planning. “So you don’t have to think about the narrative of a video, with a beginning, middle and end. It’s a photo that just moves a little and draws you into the moment.”
So what will the next five years of Instagram look like? “The word for me is ‘teleportation,’ Krieger says.
Already, engineers from Facebook-owned virtual reality headset maker Oculus Rift come over to the Instagram floor every couple of months to chat.
“They’re asking, alright, when are we building the 360-degree Instagram viewer?” Krieger laughs. “How cool would that be?”
Recently, Facebook has built support for 360-degree videos on its platform – these are shot with special cameras that record panoramic views from a fixed point, so you can explore a scene from different angles. Instagram can’t be far behind.
For the next stage in Instagram’s evolution, Krieger wants to let people experience events halfway around the world, especially since the majority of Instagrammers now live outside of the United States.
The company has opened an engineering office in New York and started experimenting with this idea. One of their first prototypes was an Instagram live window into different parts of the world through user videos – similar to live-streaming app Periscope .
“It was a super rough early beta but there was something magical about seeing the world through other perspectives.”
Being a music lover – his favourite band is the National and he plays guitar – Krieger’s favourite examples are being able to get snippets of a festival or a live concert in another country.
But it can be more: “Even when the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations were happening in Paris, how powerful would it be to feel like you’re there. That’s what I get really excited about.”
This article was written by Madhumita Murgia from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.