I have a confession to make.
I recently joined instagram after much harassment from friends. I had used instagram privately to filter and store my personal photos, but never engaged in the community by following other users on a regular basis (allegedly, the core driver of growth.)
For the last week or so, I have started to understand why this community element was and remains so critical to instagram’s success. In particular, I noticed a few design and user interface decisions that contribute to building this creative community.
1) Focus on creation: I was shocked to find that the only way one can share content on instagram is by copying the photo URL and sharing on other websites or tweeting the photo link directly. There is no ‘retweet’ (or re-instagram) functionality. I remember when I first joined Twitter, I felt more comfortable retweeting other people’s content before I became comfortable creating my own. Instagram pushes users to create on day one to feel truly engaged. You can like, comment, and follow to show appreciation but it doesn’t influence your own content stream the way it does on Twitter.
Figure 1: Sharing options on instagram
Figure 2: Sharing options on Twitter (Retweet functionality is second to left.)
2) Photo size: When I go through my instagram feed, each photo is guaranteed a few seconds of my attention. Instagram’s design interface leverages the mobile form factor to highlight each individual photo (if the photo size was any different, this leverage may have been compromised.) Instagram wanted each photo to speak for itself before the user was inundated with the comments that followed (almost forcing a user to be influenced by the photo itself before being influenced by the comments that followed.) The font size and comment collapsing features augment this focus on the photo. Facebook took a similar approach in their most recent design, understanding that users wanted to see, create and be influenced by more photos.
Figure 3: A photo on instagram takes up most of the iPhone screen.
Figure 4: Facebook has mimicked this focus on photos.
3) Devaluing the tag: While users can tag other users in their instagram photos, these tagged photos do not appear on the tagged user’s personal feed. On Facebook, many passive users augment their feeds via active users who tag them. On instagram, your personal feed depends on individual creation.
Figure 5: I was tagged in this photo, but could not view it until I went to my “news” section. On Facebook, this would show up on my home feed.
We take design at face value and miss some of the subtle features that are so core to a company’s success. A lot of these features iterate over time and depend on user feedback, but a core few dictate the way users act, ultimately shaping the reputation and community of a company.
Agree/disagree/share your own case studies! Happy to jump down the rabbit hole of design…
A few days ago, I was browsing Twitter in transit and stumbled upon an article about Banksy’s NYC art spree. I had heard Banksy’s name many times before but had never really studied his art or his background. I quickly realized that Banksy was purposefully elusive, and had kept his identity shrouded in mystery for years.
Banksy’s art is fairly homogeneous in its underlying message even though the homogeneity is expressed in a multitude of forms. The main premise is a fight against “the man” (broken down in many forms such as big government, ruthless capitalism, or religious fundamentalism.) Banksy is the hybrid of a marxist-nihilist, who chooses art as a peaceful but flippant channel of communication.
However, Banksy’s choice to remain anonymous seems deeper than just a fear of the law. If we knew who Banksy was, would that affect our opinion of his art? Would its ability to influence us be tainted? Say tomorrow we find out he belongs to a British aristocratic family - would his art lose validity?
Banksy’s active decision to remain anonymous made me think about founders of start-ups today. Do they have the luxury of remaining anonymous and allowing their product to speak for itself?
A perfect, and perhaps overused example is Facebook. Facebook seeks to make the world more open and connected, but it has been consistently criticized for being intrusive and showing disrespect for privacy. How much of this perception has to do with Zuckerberg’s personality? Through a variety of media channels, Facebook was painted as Zuckerberg’s solution to his own social awkwardness. If Zuckerberg had been a charismatic and suave college student with a robust dating history, would our opinion of Facebook’s larger message be any different? Would Facebook’s subtle privacy changes be as offensive?
Frankly I don’t know, but it begs a larger question about whether identity guides output and product and whether it should or should not.
Can we imagine a world where famous start-ups have anonymous founders? Free from societal framing, could that start-up have unprecedented impact?
Is it time for Silicon Valley to find its Banksy?
"Ban Bossy" - Lean In Group Shot, International Women in Business Summit.
[Spotted: Joanna Coles, Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan].
Can e-commerce survive in a world where Amazon exists?
If you believe customers want two primary things from a retailer, fast delivery and the cheapest price, Amazon will always win. Amazon has built a supply chain and logistics machine that gives third party items critical distribution channels. Therefore, if you sell third party items, Amazon will (if it hasn’t already) take over your market.
Many tech writers have outlined “curation” as a possible defense against the Amazon threat. I believe heavily curated marketplaces with inventory risk will not remain unscathed. While Amazon does not offer heavy-handed curation today, their recommendation engine will soon serve that purpose. Additionally, curated marketplaces may actually help increase Amazon sales. Let’s use Fab as an example. I trust Fab to have a creative eye for a fun, house decor item that I need. Fab will recommend the item via an email newsletter based on my past searches. The minute I choose an item I like, I will search the product on Amazon and have it delivered overnight via my Amazon prime membership. I am optimizing for the cheapest price and the fastest delivery with Amazon, but leveraging Fab’s creative curation. Fab gains nothing from this transaction.
While curation serves as a weak defense against Amazon, the exclusivity and adherence of brand may serve as the last resort for retails in an Amazon dominant world.When I think of “brand”, I think of luxury brands such as Gucci, Chanel, and Balenciaga. These companies have spent years building up their consumer base through a high standard of style and quality. As consumers, we have made sacrifices to obtain these brands - regardless of price or wait time. Luxury brands are a validation of self, not a validation of convenience; as a result, Amazon’s supply chain machine cannot compete.
Today, Amazon has been socialized as the convenient book-and-diaper delivery mechanism, but it still isn’t sexy enough for Chanel handbags. Therefore, luxury brands can keep customers walking through their brick and mortar doors…for now.
The big question, though, remains: will we morph as customers and inevitably allow convenience to trump a standard of self and style?
Homemade cookie butter at the Pinterest office
In honor of being a quarter century today (still can’t believe it), I wanted to share some words (lessons?) of wisdom.
In no specific order:
I never took my parents seriously when they reminisced about days without TV, or the internet. I could not imagine life without those necessities and their nostalgia was distant and removed from my world. This changed as I saw my little sister grow up. Her expectations around leisure and accessibility were shocking! The luxuries she saw as normal made me realize the power of technological shifts.
Below is a list of ten changes in my own life that have been navigated by technology. You will be surprised by how many of our habits have evolved around these changes. Please feel free to contribute if you think of more!
1. Wireless internet. Do you remember how annoying dial-up was?
2. Fax machines. I never knew how to make them work. I still don’t. PDF attachments, email, and docusign makes the world so much more efficient. What a relief.
3. Chat is everywhere. MSN messenger was my life line. I was on it the minute I got home and right before I went to sleep. Today, there are so many ways in which we can communicate with friends and colleagues at any time of day: whatsapp, gchat, email, text.
4. Libraries. I remember spending hours looking for particular books. I couldn’t rely on JSTOR or online repositories of information. In fact, my high school didn’t even have a computer database of where books were located. We searched through library card catalogs and wrote the location of the book we were looking for on little slips of paper! Often, the paper ran out and we wrote on our hands.
5. Music on demand. This one is more recent but it is surprising to see how quickly it has evolved. I used to rely on mixed tapes, then CDs, and then the iPod for music consumption. At the time, the iPod was life changing. Music on the go, with so many choices! Today, I can’t imagine being bound by what is on my iPod. Spotify defines the next generation of music on demand.
6. Slaves to TV. If you missed your favorite show, that was the end of it. DVR is probably in my list of top 5 greatest inventions of all time.
7. Plane productivity. In my senior year of high school, I used a laptop for the first time on the plane. It was a luxury. Today, we expect every flight to have internet.
8. Mobile Banking. Taking a picture of your check to deposit money in your account is incredible. I remember forgetting to go to the bank before 5 pm in college to deposit money and having to hold my purchases until the next morning. Today, you can transfer money on your cell phone from one account to the other right before a purchase!
9. Read receipts. I’ve disabled this on my phone but holy moly, if this was available when I was a teenager texting…I’d be glued to my phone.
10. Not having to ask anyone, anything. The internet is an incredible place. I remember having to write down a list of questions to ask my teachers in middle school and high school. Internet was around when I was in high school but it was not curated like it is today.
Good morning London