In 2011, we saw major growth in tools for individual expression on the Web. No, this is not a post about the power of the so-called Mommy bloggers. This year, the democratization of media on the Internet focused on a new medium as content creators gravitated toward a more visual, more impactful medium than the typical blog format.
And it should not be surprising. The math has long been worked out:
One picture = 1,000 words
If we take this old adage about the worth of a picture as true, Instagram users definitely have a lot to say. With 15 million users having uploaded over 400 million photos in the year since the service’s launch, we’ve saved ourselves quite a bit of reading in 2011. It is also important to note that these users are solely posting from iOS devices through the Instagram network and on Twitter. We can expect these numbers are poised to grow even more rapidly with an expansion to Android devices and with Facebook instant-upload capabilities expected soon.
These snapshots are visual diaries that chronicle not only the events and sights that a user experiences, but emotions as well. The addition of filters after the picture has been taken allows the photographer the ability to infuse emotion and storytelling in a way that was previously only available to dedicated hobbyists. While many will lament the lack of craft that ready-made filters facilitate, the democratization of this ability will only serve to broaden the appreciation of the professional photographers who are elevating the medium.
But Instagram is only one example of a service that is taking advantage of this visual blogging trend; many others have attempted to catch the lightning in a bottle that makes Instagram so popular, both in mobile and on the Web. Within the mobile space, we have seen high-profile services like Foodspotting, Hipstamatic, Color and Path flood the social consciousness and make the act of picture-taking a social event once again.
Of these services, one that has shown particular merit in combining location-based sharing with this visual journaling is Path. The mobile social network is a companion app that registers location, music choices, musings, collaborators and photographs from the lives of its users. Limited to your 50 closest connections, this social service aims to create deeper connections and more honest sharing within networks.
Online, platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest have exploded in popularity because of their ease of use and ability to easily give others an inside look into our world. Compared to traditional blogs like WordPress or Blogger.com, Tumblr has gained significant ground over the past year in terms of unique visitors, visits and page views. Although trailing the more established blogging platforms in terms of total visitors, Tumblr users show more engagement with the content and view a significantly higher number of pages while on the site. Finally, while WordPress.com and Blogger.com have remained stagnant or declined, Tumblr continues to climb.
Likewise, Pinterest has rapidly grown in popularity among certain online groups, generating 6 million unique visitors in November despite an invite-only restriction. For a more in-depth examination of Pinterest, check out these profiles by Sarah Voges and Darlene Lo.
Both the simplicity of sharing and the emphasis on the user’s creativity are essential to these services’ adoption. Pinterest features dead-simple usability to create visual bookmarks for projects, inspiration and the ability to share boards with others. Tumblr is similarly designed for simplicity in getting started, choosing readily from free or premium templates to design your blog, and again in practice. Users are able to share text, images, videos and music through a streamlined editor, or find and consume blogs created by others through personalized streams. However, with less emphasis on long-form text posts, the creativity of the blogger is free to shine, leading to as many different Tumblr streams as can be managed.
Many factors have contributed to the rising popularity of these visual blogging services; among them, simplicity and self-expression are very important. But at a higher level, the idea that social networks are aligning to connect people with similar interests or passions in new ways has enormous implications for how brands can engage through social media. Rather than traditional message boards, forums or “fan sites,” there is now a broader range of interests being followed across the Web. As we move into 2012, we can expect to see visual blogging continue to grow in popularity, both in mobile and the Web, and we can also expect to see services start to leverage the vast amount of content that is created through this trend to “humanize” the web experience in new ways.