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Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom: 'I’m not really one for ritual. Life’s more interesting that way.'

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kevin systrom instagram
kevin systrom instagram

Kevin Systrom is the CEO and co-founder of Instagram, the popular photo-sharing and filtering app for iPhone and Android. His company sold to Facebook for close to a billion dollars back in April. Prior to Instagram, he interned at Odeo under the future Twitter co-founders, and worked on consumer products like Gmail at Google for two years. Systrom took a few minutes to talk to The Verge about his favorite people to follow on Instagram, the longevity of image filtering, and his first memory of the internet. You can find him on Twitter at @kevin and on Instagram here.

What are you doing right now?

Closing up another great day at HQ – planning out my calendar for the rest of the week, tying up loose ends and trying not to check my email too many times in a row.

Do you own a camera? If so, what kind is it, and what lenses and film do you use? WHEN do you use it?

I own a Canon 20D, though I don’t remember the last time I used it. Ever since the iPhone 4, I’ve been completely absorbed in taking photos from my mobile phone. There’s a natural set of constraints with mobile phones that force you to be a better photographer by acknowledging and observing the world around you.

"I own a Canon 20D, though I don’t remember the last time I used it."

How do you structure your days?

Honestly, I’m not one for too much structure. Other than a run in the morning and a great shot of espresso before the commute, I’m not really one for ritual. Life’s more interesting that way.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who?

Often I’m running around between meetings with our product team, engineers and designers so it’s rare I’m sitting down to listen to music, though I love it when I get to. That being said, I spend most my time on Spotify listening to friends’ playlists and discovering new artists through the Pitchfork or KCRW apps.

Which are your favorite people / hashtags to follow on Instagram?

@colerise always makes me want to travel and see more of the world. @tartinebaker makes me hungry. @moneal makes me want to be a better photographer.

What’s your favorite Instagram photo of 2012?

I’m not sure I can pick just one!

"Videos are a very difficult medium to be ‘good’ at and also a difficult medium to consume quickly."

Sharing photos has become elemental to telling the stories of our lives. Why haven’t video apps taken hold in the same way?

I think it’s a combination of data speed limitations and the time it takes to watch a video. Videos are a very difficult medium to be good at, and also a difficult medium to consume quickly.

Publications like The New York Times have embraced Instagram as a medium of record for events such as the presidential election. Are filtered images appropriate for photojournalism — especially for stuff like Hurricane Sandy happening in real time?

I’m not sure that it matters if images are filtered – intentionally or not. Some of the most iconic images in the world were shot on black and white film, some on grainy 70s slide film, and others with instant cameras. I wouldn’t say it’s my place to dictate the best way to convey a moment in the world, which is why I’m happy it’s always up to the photographer to have creative control over how they express a moment in the world on Instagram.

"Most recently we’re seeing the rise of medium-specific networks."

Will people still be interested in adding filters a few years down the line?

Yes. Nearly every professional photo you see has some form of color manipulation applied – though I don’t think it always needs to be retro.

What does a "social network" look like in five years? What defines it?

I think people will realize very quickly that networks take different forms – and most recently we’re seeing the rise of medium-specific networks whether they be around music (Spotify), text (Twitter), or images (Instagram). As time goes on, I think we’re likely to see concentrated verticals of social networks around different media.

What’s your first memory of the internet?

The Prodigy homescreen, back when chat rooms were in!

How do you stay focused?

I try to list the top three things to get done every day, and I’ll be lucky if I hit all three, but it’s amazing what that does to keep you on track.

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