The Rise of Photo Sharing and the Battle Between Google, Instagram & Facebook

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The growth in popularity of photo sharing services- which allow users to take, share and comment on photos in real time- has been extraordinary. The rise in the use of smartphones has led to a rise in demand for photo sharing online and, thanks to platforms such as Instagram, it is emerging as a new form of social networking in its own right.

Instagram’s success has highlighted the opportunities photo sharing offers to Facebook and Google – and 2011 has seen many announcements and rumours about the launch of their own photo sharing applications. It has led Google to make their move in the photo sharing sphere, with the public launch of the Photovine app. They claim it is a ‘fun way to learn more about your friends, meet new people, and share your world like never before.’

In the same month that Instagram surpassed 150 million photos shared, it demonstrates the immense popularity of photo sharing services. It is an area of huge growth and a lot of investment.

The rise of Instagram

Instagram is the photo sharing platform market leader with over 7 million users (this is a remarkable feat considering that the app is still only available on the iPhone) and the service has managed to take on the big social media players such as Facebook and Google and is, at the moment, winning, with brands such as Burberry and Levi’s leveraging the platform to engage with their audience.

How can the Instagram phenomenon be explained? The main reason is that it is not just a photo sharing platform, but a tool which can make your photos look stunning with little effort (of the 150 million photos that have been shared, 80% have had filters applied to them).

Its simple and an easy to use interface makes it an attractive proposition to users. However, what also makes Instagram such an appealing platform is that it is also extremely social. People can follow other users and comment on their photos, meaning you can build an entire network of friends around your Instagram photos. The app has also managed to add seamless social integration to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Photovine: telling stories through pictures

The launch of Google’s Photovine iPhone app is a clear indication that the big players are not going to allow Instagram to triumph that easily. But how can Photovine differentiate itself from Instagram and the plethora of other photo sharing platforms available?
The idea behind Photovine is to use photos to tell stories through ‘vines’. These ‘vines’ are a collection of pictures around a caption. For example, if it’s a hot day you can start a ‘vine’ called ‘Parks and Sunshine’ and publish a picture. People following you can view this and also ‘join the vine’ by posting their own pictures based around this idea. The idea of grouping photos in this way and encouraging people to add to a collection is a great way to drive engagement.

Photovine seems to have everything in place to be a huge success. The concept is original and it features everything you would expect from a social network, so just like with Facebook and Twitter you can find friends and easily share photos with them. You can also setup a profile, chat with followers and add captions to your pictures. The fantastic look and feel of the app – something that Google is not generally very good at – also means Photovine can compete with Instagram.

Facebook to enter the market

Yet there is another massive player who will have a big say in the future of photo sharing. Photo sharing and tagging is one of the main factors that allowed Facebook to grow so quickly and Techcrunch recently leaked photos of Facebook’s new photo sharing app that is set to be released – though no date has yet been set. The app seems to draw heavily from Instagram and its ‘filters’ concept. It’s a sign that Facebook are determined to quickly own the market. It makes perfect sense – with 750 million users already in place they can take their pick from features they like in other applications (such as Instagram) and replicate them in their app.

Who will triumph?

With its huge growth and a new app for Android and a website on the way Instagram is starting to look like a real threat to the social graph. Their success has clearly made Facebook and Google take notice and also has made them aware of the great potential in photo sharing platforms – the challenge for these giants now is how they will compete with Instagram and dominate the market by getting an audience who are engaged with the Instagram brand to shift their allegiance.

Joel Davis is the founder of agency:2, the social media agency and a contributor to the Social Media Week Global Editorial Team based in the UK. agency:2 is a full service agency harnessing the power of social media and search to maximise ROI. They create social media marketing programmes for a range of clients on a pan-European and global level. They also run the online word of mouth platform Brandvocacy. Follow Joel on twitter @JoelDavis_ Follow agency:2 @agency2.

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