History of Instagram: How It All Began

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Karen Lin

Instagram 101 | May 29, 2024

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Once upon a time, two software engineers started work on what was initially a simple mobile check-in app. A few months later, they rebranded the app into a photo-sharing platform, and Instagram was born. The history of Instagram is an internet-age, computer-coded fairy tale, complete with a knight in shining Zuckerberg armor. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and trace Instagram’s growth from its humble beginnings to its decade-long phenomenal popularity worldwide.

A white tablet displaying Instagram’s official page.

Instagram’s Humble Beginnings

The history of Instagram began in 2009. Kevin Systrom, one of Instagram’s co-creators, had the idea of developing a modified location-based, mobile check-in app with a photo-sharing feature. He designed his prototype web app, called Burbn, to allow users to check into a location, share their itinerary online, and post photos.

At a party for a startup in March 2010, Systrom showed his prototype to two venture capitalists from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. They met again to discuss the prototype over coffee, and two weeks later, Systrom secured $500,000 in seed funding to build a team and further develop his app.

The first to join his team was Mike Krieger, whom Systrom knew from Stanford University. The two reassessed Burbn and concluded it was too similar to Foursquare, a popular, local search-and-discovery mobile app. Systrom and Krieger decided to redesign Burbn as an exclusively photo-sharing application with liking and commenting functions. They also renamed the app Instagram, a mash-up of the words “instant” and “telegram.”

They focused the app’s rebranding and fine-tuning on enhancing its photo-sharing features. They wanted to provide a minimalist user experience. After a beta test and a few software adjustments, they launched Instagram as an iOS app on October 6, 2010.

A Timeline of Instagram’s Development Milestones

Numerous impressive milestones and innovations make up the history of Instagram.

Within its first day of launch as an iOS app, more than 25,000 users signed up for an Instagram account. The platform recorded more than 100,000 registrations within the first week and surpassed 1 million users within three months. Instagram hit 10 million monthly active users before its first anniversary. When it was finally made available to the Android OS in April 2012, there were more than one million downloads in less than a day. On April 9, 2012, less than two years after the launching of the app, Instagram’s ownership changed hands when Facebook, Inc. (now Meta Platforms) acquired the platform for approximately US$1 billion in cash and stock.

In November 2012, a limited-feature version of Instagram was made available for web access. Instagram introduced a website app for the Amazon Fire device in June 2014, and the app finally became available to Microsoft Windows tablets and computers in October 2016.

A person browsing through an Instagram photo grid.

A Summary of the History of Instagram’s Growth in User Numbers

Here’s a decade-long summary of the history of Instagram’s growth in terms of monthly active user numbers.

  • October 6, 2010: Instagram registered more than 25,000 users on the first day of launch. More than 100,000 users signed up within the first week.
  • December 12, 2010: Instagram surpassed 1 million registered accounts.
  • June 2011: Instagram’s monthly active users grew to 5 million.
  • September 2011: Instagram’s monthly active users reached 10 million.
  • April 3, 2012: Instagram was downloaded more than 1 million times in less than a day after it became available for Android.
  • April 9, 2012: Facebook acquired the platform for approximately US$1 billion in cash and stock.
  • April 30, 2012: Instagram’s monthly active users reached 50 million.
  • February 2013: Instagram’s monthly active users reached 100 million.
  • September 2013: Instagram’s monthly active users grew to 150 million.
  • March 2014: Instagram’s monthly active users reached 200 million.
  • December 2014: Instagram’s monthly active users reached 300 million.
  • September 2015: Instagram’s monthly active users grew to 400 million.
  • June 2016: Instagram’s monthly active users reached more than 500 million.
  • December 2016: Instagram’s monthly active users reached more than 600 million.
  • June 2018: Instagram’s monthly active users breached the 1 billion mark.
  • December 2021: Instagram hit 2 billion monthly active users, exceeding the projected 1.44 billion monthly active users by 2025.

History of Instagram Logo

Systrom created Instagram to provide a virtual gallery and permanent repository for mobile phone users’ treasured photographs. Instagram’s iconic, square camera design represents the platform’s aesthetic vision. Look at the fascinating history of the Instagram logo.

  • The history of Instagram’s logo begins with a vintage-inspired image of a polaroid camera within a curved square. The picture shows the front side of a polaroid camera, with muted cream, gray, and black colors. A rainbow stripe (showing red, yellow, green, and blue) runs vertically down the middle. The word “Instagram” is inscribed on the left side.
Front of a polaroid camera used as Instagram’s first logo.
  • 2010-2011. Instagram updates its logo to a professionally designed vintage viewfinder inspired by a 1950s Bell & Howell camera. The camera logo is brown and beige, with a smooth surface, and it fills up the entire curved square. The rainbow stripe is in the top left corner, and the letters “INST” is printed in San Serif, block letters right below the stripe.
Vintage brown and beige camera
  • 2011-2016. The Instagram logo gets a subtle update, with the top portion getting a leathery texture and the lens having more depth and glare. Each color of the rainbow stripe is broader, and the inscription below it now spells “Insta” in title case and bold Serif.
Brown and beige camera with realistic glare on the camera lens.
  • 2016-2022. The logo undergoes a bolder redesign. The fourth iteration is a flat camera outline combining the previous logos’ key elements in vivid colors. The curved square shows a vibrant gradient of colors, from blue to pink, orange, and yellow. A smaller, curved, white square sits inside, with a white circle in the middle representing the camera lens. A white dot is positioned in the top right above the shutter to express the viewfinder.
A rainbow-colored square with a white square and white circle in the middle.
  • 2022-present. The current logo design shows a more vibrant pink, red, orange, and yellow; the designers toned down the blue color in the gradient.
A curved square in pink, red, orange, and yellow, with a smaller square and a circle in the middle

Instagram Message History

Instagram’s message history goes back to 2013, when Systrom rolled out Instagram Direct. The new feature allows users to share photos and messages privately.

The history of Instagram’s DM feature shows a stark contrast to how the feature works today. When it was first introduced, users could only start the chat function by sending a picture to anybody they’re following and who’s following them back.

You could send a photo before you post it by tapping the “Direct” tab on top of the post. You could choose up to 15 people to send the message to, and add a message to the picture. A message recipient sees a little inbox icon in the top right corner of the app when somebody sends them a photo. When a recipient opens the message, their profile picture within the chat gets a checkmark indicating that they saw the message. A user always had to send a photo first to enable regular chatting.

If someone you don’t follow sent you a message, it would appear as a pending request; it would not immediately appear in your private inbox.

History of Instagram Stories

The history of Instagram Stories began on August 2, 2016. Instagram Stories is an exact copy of Snapchat Stories, which allows users to post photo and video slideshows that disappear after 24 hours. Kevin Systrom, who was still Instagram CEO at the time, admitted that Snapchat “deserve[s] all the credit” for the Stories concept. In an interview with TechCrunch, he added, “This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.

Instagram added Stories to its features to give users an “excuse” to be “imperfect.” In the same TechCrunch article, Systrom said that “Instagram is a curated feed, but you only get to see the highlights. [Stories] solves a problem for all these people who want to take a ton of photos of an event or something in their lives, but want to manage what their profile looks like and not bomb feed, obviously, as that’s one of the no-nos on Instagram.”

Instagram Stories had always sat prominently on top of the main feed. Here’s a list of Instagram Stories’ earliest features.

  • Each photo or video in the Stories slideshow appears for a maximum of 10 seconds before the slideshow switches to the next one.
  • Viewers have to tap on your Stories to view them.
  • Viewers can tap on a Story to fast-forward to the next slide, tap the left side to return to the previous slide, or hold the screen to pause the slideshow.
  • People can swipe up to reply to your Stories via DM.
  • You can enhance your Story with drawings, text, emojis, and swipeable color filters.
  • You can see who’s viewed your Story.
  • You can block people from viewing your Stories.
  • You can view any public account’s Stories from their profile.
A person taking a photo for an Instagram story.

History of Instagram Reels

The history of Instagram Reels is one of the most recent updates to the platform’s fun and engaging features. Reels’ video content format is patterned after TikTok’s immensely popular short-form, mobile video concept. Instagram introduced Reels in August 2020 as “a new way to create and discover short, entertaining videos on Instagram.”

Users can record and edit 15-second, multi-clip reels with audio, effects, and new creative tools. You can choose a song from the Instagram music library or use your original audio by simply recording a reel with it. You can create multiple video clips, each with different AR effects. You can edit multiple clips to align objects for a seamless transition. You can speed up or slow down parts of your video or audio.

Be Part of the History of Instagram With a Successful Brand

If the history of Instagram is any indication, the platform’s global impact on cultural and industry trends will only get stronger in the coming years. Countless successful brands on the platform play a crucial role in Instagram’s trend-setting odyssey. With more than 2 billion monthly active users to date, the platform continues to offer fantastic opportunities for brands to find their niche and make their own meaningful impact.

You can be part of the history of Instagram with your story of brand success on the platform. Achieving lasting and rewarding growth is easier said than done, however. But you can get there faster with expert help from a company like Path Social.

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With Path Social, your brand will grow with real followers genuinely interested in your brand and what you offer. You can rest assured that you’ll reach potential new followers who will stick around for a long time and deliver quality engagement time and time again.

Tens of thousands of brands from all industries trust Path Social. The company has helped businesses and influencers from various industries achieve consistent and lasting growth. Start growing and gaining Instagram followers today!