One year after Facebook integration, Instagram relies on design by data

Popular photo-sharing app Instagram has, in the space of just a year, transformed from a plucky startup into a giant cog powering Facebook’s(s fb) global growth. Some of the changes are obvious: Instragram has gone from 30 million to 150 million active users, and people now find ads interspersed with their photos. Other changes are more subtle.

Speaking at Gigaom’s Roadmap conference in San Francisco, co-founder Kevin Systrom explained that Instagram’s design features where no longer “hunch driven” but instead data driven — a reference to the A/B process that Facebook and other companies use to test new features by showing them to select samples of users.

Systrom qualified the remark, however, by saying that the design process can’t begin and end with data, and that products must have conviction and a point of view.

“You can’t A/B your way to success…You can’t design the best product by starting with an A/B test,” said Systrom, who is evincing a decidedly more corporate air these days than he did as a star-up founder.

On the subject of advertising, Systrom stressed that Instagram is taking it slow, and working with a handful of partners like Ben & Jerry’s and watch-maker Michael Kors to ensure the ads are pleasing; he boasted that 5 percent of the ad images have received “likes.” He also noted that location and proximity data are integral to the company’s future, but that Instagram is still exploring how to achieve a balance between the appeal of location information with users’ desire for privacy.

As for features, Systrom praised Frontback, an app that permits users to take selfies with a simultaneous shot of what’s in front of you, but said that Instagram would not be integrating such a tool in the near future.

When pressed by Om over whether Facebook and Twitter would resolve a long-running feud that inhibits users’ ability to easily share photos, Systrom would only describe the situation as a “complicated conversation.”

Check out the rest of our Roadmap 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:
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A transcription of the video follows on the next page