by Dmytro Brovkin

How to create a photo sharing app like Instagram: the basics.


After two centuries of rapid development, photography has come a long way from being a luxury to becoming a huge part of our everyday lives. Nowadays, your cat can have more photos than a royal family could afford just a couple hundreds years ago.

The photography culture (or should we say cult?) is a big part of modern society. To capture a moment with high-quality and beautiful pictures, you don’t need to invest in a high-end professional camera anymore. At the end of 2016, the number of pictures taken by smartphone users had reached 2.08 billion. Every smartphone has a camera, so almost everyone today can take pictures and share them via social apps.

This is what Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger took advantage of back in 2010 — the year when Instagram was first launched. Ever since then, the service has been steadily growing and gaining popularity, reaching unbelievable heights. It is currently the indisputable leader when it comes to sharing pictures, and it’s well-known all around the world. The official data provided by the service sounds incredible.

Instagram users post more than 80 million pictures daily, they like the photos 3.5 billion times a day, and the monthly auditory reach is more than 400 million users. It’s nearly impossible to list all the events that photo-sharing apps could potentially be used on: parties, travel, self-advertising, and much more.


So what does it take to create an Instagram alternative from scratch?

While there is a leader in the market, it doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no place for new contenders. If you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and what you want to share with the community, nothing is impossible.

So, let’s imagine you’ve decided to create an app that would be similar to Instagram and allow you to share photos. The first thing to pay attention to is the interaction map for Instagram users:

  • Authorization (create a new profile or sign into an already existing one via social networks)
  • Editing the profile (add, edit, or delete your personal data)
  • Posting pictures (upload the photos, mention the people, add the hashtags)
  • Timeline (follow, like, comment)
  • Social features (have the ability to share the post or invite your friends from Facebook)
  • Photo customization (crop it, rotate it, add filters)
  • Location (let the location service get your geo-data via pictures taken in the app)
  • Messenger (text and photo)
  • Notifications, push-notifications
  • Search (username, just name, hashtags, post description)

It’s also important to pay attention to the interface of an app. Instagram can be a great example of a simple, stylish, and easy-to-use design.

In the table below, you can find the estimated time needed to create an Instagram alternative broken down into functional parts.


Speaking about design, UX will take from 64 to 96 hours. UI will most likely need 48–64 hours of time. Additional design features need 16+ hours, depending on how difficult your tasks are. Don’t forget that you’ll also need to design a great logo for your product, which will help you to move your brand further ahead of rivals.

At the rate of $50/hour, it’ll cost from $12800 to $22400 to create an Instagram alternative for iOS. An Android app is likely to take $12800 to $19600. The backend development will cost around $17600 — it doesn’t depend on the specifications of the users’ devices, as this code runs on the server.

Given that the main goal of an app like that is photo sharing, you’ll certainly need to take care of optimization of an app design as well as ubiquitous exterior for all media. Instagram solved this problem by making all the photos squared.

The key efficiency indicators

When you create an alternative to an app like Instagram, you’ll certainly need to include some exclusive features to leave the rivals in the dust.

It doesn’t make any sense to create an app that will be 100% identical to Instagram, because they already have a loyal client base. The best strategy is to bring on fresh new ideas while keeping an eye on the most useful Instagram features at the same time.

We’ll list some of the main indicators that you’ll need to pay attention to if you want to check on your app’s popularity and progress:

  • The number of active users
  • The users’ participation
  • The app’s ability to keep the user

1. Active users


To bring as many new, loyal users as possible.

You can check on this metric by looking at the stats on the gained and lost users and how fast the user base grows.

Ways to do it:

Media marketing: let the people know about your product and make them talk about it as much as possible. Create social network pages, contact your target audience, and hire people specializing in marketing. All of those things need to be done early, like 3–6 months before the app launch.

Referral program: reward your users for inviting friends and leaving positive feedback by giving away free new filters, photo effects, and other useful functions that can help them make the experience better.

Attracting high profile users and use smart PR: every app for photo sharing has its own important people. Such popular users can enhance your product’s status and popularity. It can be a popular client or a celebrity. You can attract them with the help of a free PR companies on your pages or free early access to your product. Moreover, you should post content that would be interesting to such people.

2. User involvement


To make people spend more time on your app and log in more often.

The involvement level can be assessed by the activity that takes place in your app: likes amount (new and overall), sent media amount (new/recent/overall), and so on.

Ways to do it:

This can be achieved by filling your app with social functions, like comments, likes, groups, friends, followers, channels, instruments to make a profile unique and different.


To attract a potential audience, you’ll need to offer high-quality and helpful editing tools that satisfy the needs of professionals. Ensure that the professional photographers get the best terms, and they’ll pay you back by making your app unique and posting their quality content in your app.

3. Keeping the user


To make sure users come back to your app.

Ways to do it:

Send push-notifications every time something interesting happens. Since your users will probably be mostly young people, send the notifications and letters at the right time (in the morning, when they’re getting ready for school or college, or later on to encourage them spend their free time in your app).

React to the feedback from your users, whether it’s positive or negative. It’ll show everyone you care about the people who use your app and are even ready to display their feedback.

Launch different promotional events so that your users get involved with everything that happens inside of your app — and make a profit on these events.

All these factors are very important, because they show how satisfying your app is for your target audience, what profit you can make, and where you need to head next in order to make your app even better.


One more factor that most people are interested in, beside the costs of developing an app, is how to monetize it. There are multiple ways to make profit with the help of your app:

  • Sponsorship and advertising (companies create their profiles and advertise themselves)
  • In-app purchases (just as far as your imagination goes — you can sell filters, effects, even let the users smell their own photos)
  • Special offers for active users.


So, what do you need to do to create an alternative to Instagram? Just the following:

  • Analyze the market, and invent your strategy
  • Get investors to help you
  • Find the developers that’ll create a MVP for you
  • Design your own marketing strategy and launch it a few months before the official app launch
  • Add some unique functions to your app to make it special
  • Test it to guarantee the highest quality of your services
  • Enjoy your (hopefully) successful app!

Don’t forget about your rivals, though. Always be alert to what happens in the market and what the current trends look like. Remember, the best has no limits, and you can always improve even further. If you launch a product that will not only satisfy people’s needs, but also be comfortable and nice to use, the success will surely come.

As you can see, apps like Instagram are the important tools of social marketing nowadays. So, if you really want to create an Instagram alternative and are ambitious enough to try it, then I hope that this article has been helpful. Get in touch with us today, and we can lay the foundation of your business and development needs!

This article was originally published on the Octodev Blog.