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Instagram to the next level

March 7, 2013

Could Instagram’s simplicity be preventing it from wreaking wide scale disruption

I believe that only Instagram is capable of wide scale disruption because we essentially have four social levels in terms of media types:

Text (Twitter rules)
Images (Instagram rules)
Audio (Spotify rules)
Video (YouTube rules)

Each of these levels can contain “only” the succeeding levels. So naturally Twitter is King because it can and does support Image, Audio and Video embeds.

But because Twitter is textual, there is no visual engagement. Think of it as an MS-DOS file manager. Without the filetype icons as cues, we have a difficult time making sense of things.

That’s the reason Instagram is the real King because it has visual engagement with text retrofitted. Another major factor feeding into Instagram’s success is that people are slowing losing their patience. The Net has been around for 30 years and we have not seen even 3% effort going into customization.

I, for one, believe that Instagram is the Future

In my opinion, only Instagram can cause wide scale disruption.

One of the reasons behind Instagram’s success has been the Simplicity of the service but this very Simplicity could also become the reason for its downfall.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that complicated features might put off the majority of IGers.

The middle path is what Instagram needs to take.

But how is it possible to have both Simplicity and Complexity at the same time.

The answer could lie in the API.

Instagram could start off by providing these advanced features in the API so as to let third parties come up with innovative implementations. Later, Instagram could provide its own client (called maybe IG Plus) to compete with these third party clients. Finally, Instagram could provide these features in its mainstream client.

By staggering the rollout, Instagram would be able to avoid sudden server overload (even in these cloudy times) and also get time to iron out the inevitable wrinkles.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks and design Instagram’s next level client IG Plus

IG Plus would not be foolish enough to mess with a formula that works. So it would have 2 levels. The basic level would function exactly like the mainstream client. The advanced level would have all those extra features.

So when we start the client, we would see the usual 5 tabs.

Instagram's Basic Interface

Basic Interface

If we long hold the header we would get into the advanced level. The colours would have to be slightly different to indicate that this is not the basic level.

Because advanced level does not mess with the basic formula, it can be very very experimental. I repeated that word because we need some intense changes to the way things happen currently.

But before we get into those “very very” features, let’s see how the advanced level would “basically” operate.

It would basically operate like a visual Twitter of sorts

We could have three tabs.

Tab 1 could be STREAM
Tab 2 could be PINNED
Tab 3 could be ENGAGE

STREAM would be what sources we are following (as opposed to people)

PINNED would be what images we have bookmarked

ENGAGE would be what we shared from among our Pins

Please note that everything about the Advanced Level would be private. It would not show up anywhere in the mainstream client even after it gets incorporated in that.

It would be a visual Twitter of sorts because for instance, if I am following TechCrunch, I would receive the article in a regular 612×612 image with the TC logo on the top left, the topic logo (say startups) on the top right, then the Headline, the main image and the body etc in the rest of the image. Naturally each source would be free to design its own layout.

If I find it Interesting, I would Pin it. If I find it worth sharing, I would “Engage” it. I could also decide to have the image show up in my basic account.

Now let’s get more experimental

The STREAM could have Criteria as sources for instance “Popular”, “Controversial” etc

The PINNED could have activity tracking. For instance “Mr X has escaped” can have an update. “Mr X was spotted” and another one “Mr X was nabbed” etc

The ENGAGE could have social tracking “Shared by 36 other users” “Show all comments” etc

Now let’s get very very experimental


The STREAM articles could have a multi-criteria system. Let’s use a VIBGYOR star system where we can attach criteria to each star in order to exploit the power of visual association.

For instance, if an Image has been Pinned more than n times, activate Indigo star. If a particular user has pinned the image, activate Yellow star. If Image is seeing disproportionate engagement activate Red star.

These scripts could get very complicated. Third party sites could offer VIBGYOR script services. These guys could look at our PINNED tab and deduce the criteria we may have subconsciously used then provide the refined versions as scripts. So now the Red Star would activate only if the disproportionate engagement is from users who know what they are talking about. Or these third party sites could simply rig our VIBGYOR with the most popular scripts going.

Now whatever image comes on our STREAM would have these VIBGYOR stars. If some criteria are not satisfied, the corresponding stars would be grayed out.


The STREAM articles could be co-owned blobs. For instance if TechCrunch has nailed one Samsung Galaxy S4 rumour and TheVerge has nailed another one, both rumours could be co-presented in a co-owned blob. The blob could be created and co-ownership decided dynamically by Instagram itself.


Similarly the Engagement could be co-owned by users. There are two levels of users: Sources and Sinks. All users contributing to blob engagement are Sources. All users reacting to these blobs are Sinks. For instance, because we respect TC and TV, we may believe those two rumours, but if a Chinese user has some local source of information which contradicts these and he quotes that as blob engagement then his Source ratio would increase.

Source:Sink ratios would have merely symbolic meaning if these were not backed by currency. IG currency would need to be centrally managed by Instagram and could take all such actions into account.


These are just some ideas worth looking into. There are many more possible within such a framework for instance audio/video embeds. The basic idea is that Twitter / Instagram streams are very simplistic and come at huge opportunity costs. The way out could be a second advanced level of interaction that does not disturb the basic one.


From → User Interface

One Comment
  1. “Naturally each source would be free to design its own layout”

    Things can actually get much more complex than that.

    To start off, sources could embed a transcript or related content into the image metadata, which IG Plus could then make accessible to Siri or equivalent. So if you are driving, Siri could read out the stream and you could navigate by saying “Next, Previous, Pin, Engage, etc”

    Alternately the sources could make available raw data and layouts to Instagram which could then serve these based on our settings. For instance, if I have to read in the commute, I might prefer a larger font and so on.

    Here again the Engage layout can be entirely different from the Stream layouts. So if I’ve set IG Plus to push large font layout in my Stream, it does not affect format for Engage push outs.

    Alternately I would just need to push a blob and whoever engages with it gets in the format they have set for themselves. In other words, all blobs could be raw till the point of consumption.

    Similarly other features could get more complicated.

    For instance, in Twitter, when we retweet we are causing a change in distribution. In IG Plus, merely rating a blob would affect its distribution because that rating could trip a number of VIBGYOR scripts recursively. If instead we actually “Engage” it, vastly more scripts would trip. Those third party VIBGYOR script sites would have their hands full soon enough.

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