Instagram and Gradual Iteration
- Posted by ppearlman
- on February 6th, 2013
Taylor Hatmaker’s piece on ReadWrite sharply criticizes the latest iteration of Instagram on the web.
The thing that makes Instagram special is that – until today – it was a social network with no web presence. There’s an inestimable charm to how Instagram feels walled-off in its mobile-only realm. You just don’t interact with Instagram on desktop. The rules are different. It’s like when the power goes out and you have to play board games. And it’s really, really fun.
Taylor’s view reminds me of the way early fans of a great indie band feel when that band has a huge hit song and suddenly becomes uber famous. Its as if that cool special thing no one knew about has been stolen and so I kind of know how she feels.
I’m sure there are many U2 fans out there who recount seeing the band at some hole in the wall bar in the 70′s and still lament the release of Joshua Tree in ’87. Those were the days…
Yet, in the case of Instagram, I totally disagree with Taylor’s conclusion and there is a critical product development lesson in there as to why.
Instagram has evolved its web product gradually with a level of good taste and restraint rarely seen and wholly admirable.
They began with nothing on the web. Then, just a sign in page where you could access your account only. Next, individual, permalinked pics, then some profile pages and now this most recent release that is still missing app functions such as Explore.
As a result of this gradual iteration, the site looks beautiful, is simple to use as well as enjoyable and convenient for those such as myself who spend the majority of their time in front of a desktop.
I recall a short blog post from September 2010 by Flickr founder Caterina Fake, in which she succinctly explained how Digg blew their major redesign. Fake writes,
I think after the initial launch, if you have a large number of users the ‘big launch’ should be avoided as much as possible. The main reason being users can’t digest it all at once. If you release separate features continually over time, users can adapt to each of them give feedback on each, and you can debug and alter them as you see fit. What do we want? Gradual change. When do we want it? In due course.
There’s a huge responsibility that comes with being the iconic mobile native application to evolve and scale a web 2nd strategy. In this case, Facebook ($FB) has gotten it very right by iterating Instagram gradually.
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Phil is the executive editor of StockTwits and an investor in the company. He is a partner at Social Leverage, LLC and makes early stage investments in web based companies. (More)