It’s been an interesting few weeks for the team over at Facebook HQ. With the barriers on international mobile internet access lifted, Instagram has seen some of the first images of North Korea uploaded to the service using a data network inside the country’s borders. Meanwhile, over in the US, co-founder Kevin Systrom has been drafting a lengthy blog post about the early days of the photo sharing app and how it has just hit the 100-million monthly active user mark.
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Despite cries from natives about how they would delete their accounts over the much-discussed changes in its terms of service, the service keeps gaining users — as TechCrunch points out, it managed to hit the milestone just 28 months after its initial launch. In his post on the official Instagram blog, Systrom explains how he and co-founder Mike Krieger first realised the potential of their fledgling service when they had only a few thousand users, but could already see the value of photo-sharing in real-time.
He recounts a day when the two were working late in their shared office space, but could hear the sounds of a baseball game in the distance. “With a few quick commands at his terminal, my co-founder Mike’s screen filled with images of the game: the bullpen, dugout, concession stands, cheering fans and a panoramic view from somewhere up high,” writes Systrom. “In a matter of hours, the people in that stadium had recorded moments in time through Instagram and allowed us to tune into an event while we sat a half a mile away, working — winter coats and all. For the first time, we understood why Instagram was going to be different.”
Instagram’s potential to reach across space was exhibited again recently as journalists in North Korea began using the service to post snapshots from the electronically isolated country. Associated Press’ Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee posted her first tweet using Korea’s mobile network and later shared a shot on Instagram of a sign promoting nuclear testing in the capital city, while the news agency’s chief photographer for Asia David Guttenfelder posted a photo of a tour guide directly from his phone for the first time.
Guttenfelder has been snapping images of everything from propaganda posters to sunrises over Pyongyang while on assignment in the country for a while, but he says this is the first time he’s been able to upload the photo directly via the country’s cellphone network without making use of a WiFi hotspot. “The window on to North Korea has opened another crack,” he writes. “Meanwhile, for Koreans here who will not have access to the same service, the window remains shut.”
North Korea recently relaxed restrictions on mobile communication, permitting tourists to bring their own phones into the country for the first time. In the last week, it also began allowing foreigners to access to its 3G network, although ordinary citizens are still not allowed to access the global internet on data-enabled phones as yet.