Instagram Anniversary: Nine years, and still hooked

Updated: 11 October, 2020 11:18 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

As one of the worlds most used apps turns 10, battling recent criticism for policy and interface changes, one of its earliest users from Mumbai looks back at his Instagram journey

Samant now uses the platform to showcase his digital artworks
Samant now uses the platform to showcase his digital artworks

In the last few years, there has been a systematic campaign against Instagram, the photo and video sharing app, which turned 10 this week. It has been criticised for everything from polluting to diluting content. But I think that's unfair. I find it to be a completely democratic platform, and the very fact that it continues to be relevant even a decade on, is a big deal.

In fact, I owe a lot to Instagram. It exposed me to another world, and a community of like-minded people, which helped me hone my creative skills.

I joined Instagram in 2011, a year after it was launched on Apple's App Store. At the time, it was yet to launch on Android, and was still a niche app for users, especially in India. Because I owned an iPod Touch, I was able to download it. In the beginning, I created a profile with little intention to use it. I would just scroll and explore the interface. Then, Instagram was strictly a photo-sharing app, and you could only upload square images with a 1:1 aspect ratio. I found that to be fascinating. Several photographers took it up as a challenge. Another feature that stood out were the filters, which enhanced the images. None of us had seen anything like this until then, and while we have such apps by the dozen now, it was unique to its time. The filters were so popular that some of the classic ones continue to be part of Instagram till date.

One of the earliest photos that Samant clicked for Instagram in December 2012 was that of the BMC headquarters opposite CSMT
One of the earliest photos that Samant clicked for Instagram in December 2012 was that of the BMC headquarters opposite CSMT

It wasn't long before I got bitten by the photography bug, and bought myself a DSLR (Nikon D5100). I was pursuing an engineering degree, and this felt like a good side hobby to pursue. I still remember how I would take photographs on my DSLR keeping Instagram's square frame in mind, and then upload it on the app, using one of the filters. Everyone was suddenly taking a shine to photography. That's how the community of Mumbai Instagrammers (@mumbai_igers) was founded by Meghna Girohtra, in 2013. It all developed so organically. One of my fondest memories was joining Meghna and fellow members for one of our first photo-walks at the Gateway of India. This was the first time I had met people through an online app, and we spent a better part of that day clicking photographs. Some of them have continued to remain close friends.

By then, I had started working in the IT sector, and my job was becoming monotonous. I was, however, focusing on building my photography profile on Instagram. It became a portfolio of sorts.

Siddharth Samant @that_sidartguy 1,493 posts 36.7K followersSiddharth Samant @that_sidartguy 1,493 posts36.7K followers

What really changed things for me was when in January 2015, Instagram came up with a dynamic user list, where the app's curatorial team in San Francisco would pick up one continent at a time, and curate a list of top users, who would then be marked as "suggested users". These suggested users would reflect on the feed of new users for a week. Instagram selected my profile to be part of their dynamic list, and so, my follower count shot up from 3,000 to 25K. Suddenly, I had a following that was akin to an influencer's. I realised that if I needed to retain these followers, I'd have to create content consistently. In the initial days, Meghna would direct brands to members of the @mumbai_igers community, and while we didn't do paid branding, we'd work for them on a barter model. That's how my influencer journey began.

Meanwhile, I went on to pursue a masters at MICA, Ahmedabad, and started nurturing my creative pursuits. From there I went on to work as brand manager for Amazon. I think, somewhere down the line, my Instagram journey influenced the choices I later made.

These days, my content comprises a mix of my digital artworks and photographs, which continue to remain my first love. I do promote brands, but I have a strict clause, where I, and not the brand decides what the content should be. That has probably not gone in my favour, and I have lost out on some leading brands, but I don't want to sign up for paid partnerships just for the heck of it. I am very conscious and particular about what I present to my followers, who by the way are discerning and intelligent.

One wrong move, and you can lose everything that you so carefully built.

In January 2015, Instagram chose Samant’s profile to be part of the dynamic user list, which increased his followers from 3,000 to 25K in the span of a week
In January 2015, Instagram chose Samant's profile to be part of the dynamic user list, which increased his followers from 3,000 to 25K in the span of a week

I still use Instagram, as much as I did nine years ago. And for that, one must give credit where it's due. Almost every year, the app rolls out interesting features—be it new filters for the post and the stories, the boomerang or the latest 'reels' feature, which is being seen as a competition to TikTok. People in tier-three cities and towns are making money off their content, and they are as deserving, as someone in a mega city. This fluidity in opportunity, is possible because the app doesn't discriminate, and that's one of the biggest takeaways for me. I probably too, wouldn't have progressed 'creatively' had it not been for the app.

Insta birth

In 2009, Kevin Systrom, 27, a Stanford graduate, was working at Nextstop, a travel recommendations startup. Coding on weekends, he built a prototype of an app called Burbn, inspired by his taste for fine whiskeys and bourbons. It allowed you to check-in, post your plans, and share photos. Following a seed funding round, together with Mike Krieger, Systrom decided to focus primarily on photographs specifically taken on mobile devices, commenting and "liking". They renamed it Instagram, combining the words instant and telegram, and launched it in 2010. It gathered 25,000 users on day one.

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First Published: 11 October, 2020 08:25 IST

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