Distilled From Burbn, Instagram Makes Quick Beautiful Photos Social (Preview)


For about the past six months or so, I’ve been using an app called Burbn. Despite being in stealth mode, the app attracted quite a bit of buzz as it was in the location space and built entirely in HTML5. Oh, and the $500,000 investment from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz helped gather interest as well. But it turns out Burbn was a red herring of sorts. Or perhaps more appropriately, it was a testing ground. The product that emerged is much better: Instagram.

Unlike Burbn, Instagram is neither a location-based app (though that is one component), nor is it HTML5-based. But it did spring out of the way co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger saw people using Burbn. That is: quick, social sharing — and a desire to share photos from places. That’s the foundation of Instagram.

More specifically, Instagram is a iPhone photo-sharing application that allows you to apply interesting filters to your photos to make them really pop. The app will be launching in the coming weeks, but as a longtime Burbn user, I’ve had the opportunity to try it out over the past few weeks. And I’m happy to report that it’s very good.

A couple of my favorite apps on the iPhone currently are Hipstamatic and CameraBag. Like Instagram, both are photo apps that allow you to apply filters to pictures you take with the device. But both are fundamentally flawed in that neither has good sharing or discovery mechanisms. Put another way, neither are very social — at all. Instagram is. And it provides the same type of photo filter manipulation — and maybe even a little better.

Most mobile photos are like ‘meh’,” Systrom told me when I met with him and Krieger earlier today. But at the same time, cameras like the one found on the iPhone are replacing more expensive cameras because they are so much more convenient. So the team set out to make these pictures look better.

To do that, it actually involved quite a bit of math. Each of their filters mean doing math on every single pixel, Systrom noted. Currently, Instagram has 11 such filters, with more on the way. These filters range from Apollo (sort of moon-like) to Nashville (an orange/sepia tinge) to Gotham (dark). They can make even the most bland photo look interesting.

Once you take a picture and apply a filter (there’s also an option not to), the photo is shared into your Instagram Feed. From here, your friends on the site can “like” or comment on it. But another key to Instagram is that it’s just as easy to share these photos to other social networks — like Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. To do that with CameraBag, for example, you have to use email — ugh.

And perhaps the best part is that all of this sharing is really, really fast. Systrom wouldn’t reveal how they get photos to seem like they upload so quickly, he would only called it their “special sauce.”

Once your photo is up on Instagram and accumulating likes and comments, you can see the activity around it in the “News” tab. This area current goes back three days and allows you to quickly reply to comments your photos may have received.

Another tab, called “Popular”, allows you to see the photos on Instagram that have received the most likes. This also serves as a good way to find new people to follow, Krieger noted. He said that going forward, discovery is going to be a key feature they’re working on.

But first, of course, they have to actually launch the app. As I noted above, it should be out in the next few weeks. When it launches, it will be a free download — another difference with CameraBag and Hipstamatic. So how will they make money? With plenty of funding for the two-man team, they’re not too concerned with that right now, but Systrom said that the app will launch with 7 of their 11 filters for free, and the other 4 will be available for in-app purchase (with more coming).

This model has worked well for Hipstamatic, as they’re the number 8 app overall right now in terms of top grossing apps in the App Store (these numbers include in-app purchases).

When I asked about the pivot away from location, Krieger noted that sometimes it’s useful for pictures, but sometimes people just don’t care — they just want to get the picture out there as quickly as possible. “We’re not a check-in app, we’re a life-sharing app,” Systrom added.

That said, there is still an option to check-in with Foursquare when you tag a picture to a specific venue (they are using Foursquare’s place database).

Krieger said that the idea for Instagram was to take what they learned from the relatively complex Burbn and focus on doing one of those things perfectly — in this case, social photo sharing. As regular readers may know, I’m a big fan of this idea.

Systrom also cited Fred Wilson’s recent post noting that startups are beginning to focus on mobile first now. The idea is that Instagram will start with the iPhone app and expand from there. While they haven’t even started thinking about Android yet, clearly that’s in the cards. And the web will be an important component of this too, Systrom noted.

Beyond Hipstamatic and CameraBag, Instagram faces a ton of competition from photo sharing apps such as Picplz and Treehouse. Systrom thinks a number of them are good, but feels their approach is different enough to separate from the pack.

Both Systrom and Krieger gradutaed from Stanford and were a part of the Mayfield Fellows Program – a joint program between the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the Mayfield Fund. Most recently, Systrom was working at NextStop (recently acquired by Facebook) while Krieger was at Meebo. Before NextStop, Systrom spent a couple of years at Google, and before that he was an intern at Odeo — the company that eventually stepped aside to give birth to Twitter. Systrom noted he actually shared a desk with Twitter creator Jack Dorsey back in the day, and that Dorsey has been very helpful with Instagram/Burbn.

The duo is currently working out of the Dogpatch Labs in San Francisco. We’ll have a bit more on the app when Instagram actually launches in a few weeks. You can sign up here to get notified when it will be available.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo