Ever since Instagram reached an adoption level Google+ would kill for, it's become my favorite social network. I don't know if it was the Android release, Facebook's acquisition or some combination of both that got them there, but since it reached the point that there were enough people on there to pay attention to an always-cool—albeit relatively simple—concept, it's become social networking at its purest.
Like Twitter in the early days, Instagram starts with a very simple premise and lets users decide how they'll use it. But still, it conveys all the same things and allows you to keep up with friends/family/acquaintances/strangers just as easily as on other social networks, but always with images.
Oh you like a band? There's a photo of you at a show (or the more 'meh' "Now playing" screencap). You're at a restaurant? No need to "check in," just show me. You did what this weekend? There it is in an image. You're a huge fan of a sports team? There's you at the ballgame. It's that simple; it really is social networking purified.
The thing is, that was never really the point.
Here's an exchange between Kevin Rose and Instagram CEO & co-founder Kevin Systrom (emphasis added):
Kevin Rose: "What's the grand vision that's bigger than filters and just sharing simple photos with friends?"
Systrom: "I think you alluded to it earlier when you said you could explore the world. Imagine a service that collects all of the visual data that gets produced all around the world so you can tune in to anyplace on earth to see exactly what's happening, whether that is a friend's birthday party that you're missing or a wedding happening that you didn't go to or a riot breaking out overseas. Or something as personal as a baby's first steps.
These are all moments that are happening around the world and that we capture with our cameras, right, and that is visual media that before was sitting on someone's camera or phone and just sitting there. What happens in the world when you take all that data and combine it in a network?
Sounds amazing. Now imagine the sports implications—tuning into any stadium in the world and being given hundreds, if not thousands, of fan-sided views and a tour around the entire environment. Quick, let's take a glance across the sports world (at this writing).
Hang with me, just peruse through—we're coming back.
By far, the best sports thing going on tonight is a meaningless baseball game played between the Cubs and Pirates—STARTING at 10:40 local time.
After more than three hours, the tarp comes off.
As could be expected, not many people there.
Fans in the upper deck told they can find a better seat downstairs. Fans in the lower deck told they can play a few innings.— Doug Padilla (@ESPNChiCubs) September 18, 2012
Of course, we do have Monday Night Football as well.
How about we go back to baseball? AT&T Park, what I believe is the second most popular location tagged on Instagram.
Aaaand, we're back. Yeah, you know that "at this writing" I had up there? "At this writing," for that part, was actually a week ago. See, because it took so long to find the pictures for the first iteration of this post (Andy Murray, two Monday Night Football games), I had to go to bed before I finished it. So we're here now, after spending 30 minutes finding different pictures, wrapping this up.
It's so much more inconvenient than it should be to find these. First, you run a search for a hashtag you hope will yield the proper geotag. In this case I just tried the stadium names as hashtags—#wrigleyfield, #georgiadome, #attpark—and then go down those search results forever looking for the veritable geotag. It's a pain.
So, when will we see the type of functionality the platform seems destined for? Well, it might not be too far off based on Instagram's most recent update, which builds "Photo Maps" for users displaying where each of their photos were taken. At the time (beginning of August), Forbe's Steve Bertoni wrote that Instagram was moving towards becoming a media company, based on what Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told him for a Forbes profile earlier that month:
“Imagine the power of surfacing what’s happening in the world through images, and potentially other types of media in the future, to each and every person who holds a mobile phone,” Systrom says. At its best Instagram would be a pocket-size window to the world that will deliver a live view of what’s unfolding across the globe—say, Syrian street protests or the Super Bowl sidelines. “I think they have a Thomas Edison-like opportunity,” says Thrive Capital’s Joshua Kushner. “At some point in the next two years you’ll go onto Instagram and see what’s happening in real time anywhere in the world, and that’s world-changing.”
It is world-changing, and it's on its way. I don't know exactly what it'll look like, whether or not it will scare the hell out of everyone (because it's a lot like that thing Batman used to find the Joker in the Dark Knight) or how it'll make any money—but this is the direction in which Instagram is heading. And for sports-lovers interested in seeing what the fan experience is like across the country—around the world—there couldn't be a better tool at their disposal.