Arguably the best social media app available today, with over two million users after only two months and knocking Facebook off its pedestal, Instagram is something of an internet phenomenon. It has changed the rules of social communication worldwide and paved the way for other apps to push the boundaries of human interaction to make the most fundamental changes our society has seen in a short space of time. But how does it work?
Founded in San Francisco in 2010, Instagram grew from an earlier idea called Burbn, the brain-child of co-founder Kevin Systrom. Burbn was designed to allow friends to check in their whereabouts online but after working with Mike Krieger the team decided to focus entirely on uploading photographs available for friends to like or comment upon. The name Instagram was taken from an abbreviation of the words “instant” and “telegram”. The app was generally easy to create and took only eight weeks but its immediate success was extraordinary as it amassed over 10,000 users in the first week.
Burbn, the prototype that became Instagram, was written on HTML 5 which Kevin Systrom learned to use from attending evening classes. Instagram currently uses Ubuntu Linux 11.04 as their operating system but has remained true to much of the language used to set up Burbn in the first place, For example, the photographs are stored on Amazon s3, NodeJS is used for the push notifications and Django python framework with nkginx web server was used from the start. PostgreSQL is used for storage purposes and React Native is used for its high speed and code sharing ability.
Written entirely in python, Instagram has been described as the world’s largest use of the Django framework. Engineers at Instagram have continued to make changes to keep the simplicity of the program. For example, Python’s Garbage Collection (GC) began to raise issues with memory usage due to its Copy-On-Write (COW) function, therefore, Instagram code writers began to search for a way to use Python GC without COW, After a number of experiments they finally achieved success by hiding shared objects from Python Garbage Collection through adding a simple API as gc.freeze( ) to the Python GC module.
With over 800 million monthly users, Instagram uses CPython, the reference implementation of Python, as the runtime to execute their code. CPU bound machines are used to serve Instagram’s growing customer base and their coding is regularly analyzed to maintain effectiveness.
Growth in Instagram Followers
From attracting thousands of users in the first week, Instagram is one of the most successful social media platforms at both retaining current users and enticing new ones. Bought by Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion in 2012, Instagram stood out at the time for having a remarkably small staff with only 6 engineers despite its thirty million users. Although Instagram now benefits from the inclusion of a wider staff base thanks to support from its parent company, the basic code remains the same as that first written by Kevin Systrom in the early days, before the platform even got its name.
It seems the growth in Instagram followers continues to expand exponentially. Many Facebook users have either added or switched to Instagram, which has begun to attract a younger audience as well as a more sophisticated, older market. Viewed as slightly more sophisticated than its parent account, Instagram photos seem to be more selective with closer attention to stylistic detail while posts on Facebook can sometimes include a whole album of unedited holiday snaps.
Instagram makes its own money from advertising but an increasing group of individuals are using Instagram to develop their own careers as Instagram Influencers. This savvy band simply upload their material in the form of stories, images, and posts as regularly as possible, similar to blogging. Through creating an online persona they are able to increase their followers to a point where they can achieve influencer status. Take, for example, Mrs Hinch, the UK Instagram cleaning sensation. This young housewife set up an account to share images of her beautiful new home and the cleaning products and hacks she liked to use to keep it spotless. Almost instantly, her followers, known as Hinchers, would rush to the shops to purchase the products she had used. Within a year, she had accrued as many as two million followers which now makes her a perfect advertising magnet for manufacturers of cleaning products. Through sponsored links and affiliates, Mrs Hinch is now able to influence thousands of followers into purchasing her chosen products.