Today marked some sort of milestone for Instagram, the amazing little photo sharing application for iOS devices. They reached 150 million shared photos and crossed over 7 million users – both incredible numbers for a 4-person team almost left for dead a few mere months ago. So what happens now?
Every blog post (TechCrunch and GigaOm for example) I’ve read today has focused the story about Instagram on these numbers but I would like to know what these numbers really mean – how much revenue have they earned as a result of the 7 million users posting 150 million photos? I ask this question because I love this little application and would like to continue sharing toasted photos. I ask this question because there are a number of great little companies that have started to leverage the Instagram API to build revenue generating businesses (Sincerely’s Postagram for example). I ask this question because there are accusations that we are in the middle of another bubble and posting these enormous but empty numbers just adds fuel to that fire.
So what does Instagram need to do to actually make a business out of this? Because right now they are just a free service with a huge number of free photos and a generous number of users in tow.
Could they charge for a premium version of there service? I suppose they could charge for additional filters, they could buy Postagram and other premium offerings to round out their photo services, they could even start charging for storage like Flickr does but that may stop people from posting mass numbers of photos.
Could they charge for location-aware ads? This seems likely because most of the photos are geo-tagged and with the numbers mentioned above they could almost immediately make a business out of this. My guess is that they are hesitant to do this as to not destroy the experience the app brings.
Could they help monitor brand activity in photos? This is interesting because there aren’t a lot of companies out there doing this right now. Think about Coke working with Instagram to run promotions or contests around the brand through people taking photos and posting them. Better yet, Instagram could buy a company like Pongr and start helping brands understand their impact in pictures.
This is all speculation but the bottom line is that, while the numbers are as cool as the app itself, how many users do you need to amass without a business model before they cross over a hoarding threshold?
You know what’s cooler than 150,000,000 photos? The first dollar earned.