A photo and video-sharing app like Instagram takes social mobile networks to the next level. This simple but distinctive Burbn (Instagram’s former name) app idea seeded funding worth $500K, which allowed for the building of a product on iOS, Android, and Windows phone platforms. Furthermore, after two more funding rounds, the project collected $57.5M in total and ten investors.

Instagram’s founders - Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger - sold their startup to Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion ($300 million in cash, the rest in Facebook stock). Currently, Instagram is a free app with a net worth of more than $100 billion US.

Many businesses were inspired by the success of Instagram. This success resulted in the appearance of other well-known photo-sharing apps: Swipe, Snapchat, Vine, Camera, Flickr. All of these apps utilize photo and video content, but vary in their core value and functionality. Specifically, there is potential in a photo-sharing app business once this uniqueness is found. Simply making a clone of Instagram won’t give good results. Besides, it takes years and millions of dollars to copy the platform.

According to Statista, the number of smartphone users will reach almost 3 billion by the end of 2020. Since every smartphone has a camera, their owners take a lot of shots and gladly share them with the help of apps.

Therefore, at MLSDev we find it useful to explain what it takes to create a photo-sharing app like Instagram. We will cover the evolution of the product, its functionality, and elements that allow apps similar to Instagram to be built.

Evolution of Instagram Mobile App

Evolution of Instagram on Mobile Screens
Evolution of Instagram on Mobile Screens

These days, Instagram, the leading social photo-sharing app, is well known all over the world. According to official statistical information, 95 million pictures are posted on Instagram daily. In 2018, the number of monthly active Instagram users reached 1 billion - almost one-eighth of the world’s population.

Who would expect such great achievement? The story of Instagram started with a simple but unique feature - adhering a photo in a square with a few filters. This functionality can be considered the MVP of Instagram, which further allowed the company to receive greater investments and develop a solid project for major mobile platforms (iOS, Android, and Windows phone).

It is worth mentioning that when Instagram was released, photo-sharing and editing tools existed separately on the market. The combination of both elements became the Unique Selling Proposition. Within the next 2 months the platform gained 1 million active users.

Currently, Instagram is a free photo-sharing app for Android and iOS smartphones, and there is also a web-based Instagram version for uploading and sharing photos. It is no longer a simple photo app, but rather a social platform offering wide functionality for business owners and marketing specialists.

Let's now check out Instagram through the lens of photo-editing app, e-commerce portal, and messenger.

  • Instagram as a Photo-editing App
    The Instagram app has lots of colorful filters and elements with which to adjust photos. Users can change a photo’s size, adjust its brightness, contrast, structure, warmth, and use markers, texts, and other elements.

  • Instagram as an E-commerce Platform
    Social Commerce is a new technology reshaping the future of e-commerce.

Photo-sharing apps are known to be the most engaging platforms with which brands and companies can benefit by showcasing their products. Instagram is earning commission from each transaction made via its platform.

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  • Instagram as a Messenger “Direct,” a messenger within Instagram, is an integral part of the platform and any other social network these days. The feature allows users to share highlights, exchange ideas, and connect more deeply with other users.

The Instagram project never stands still. The most recent version of Instagram experienced a design update as well as some new features, namely:

Instagram Updates 2018
Instagram Updates 2018

  • IGTV - Instagram TV for vertical video sharing up to one-hour in length; it is now possible to create a personal channel.
  • Stories - a section to share your highlights as a photo or short 15-second video.

  • Shoppable posts - shopping tags connected to the posts allows users to make purchases directly from the app. This makes Instagram a significant sales channel.
  • Nametags - a tool utilizing QR code principle. Allows for the creation of personalized “nametags” to be scanned by other individuals, who are then given the option to follow you. This makes it easier for users to connect and is a great asset for brands.

  • New quick replies in Direct - the feature which will be used to save and customize generic responses, especially useful for business profiles.

  • Explore page - redesigned app screen

Having covered the core information about Instagram and its evolution, it is valuable to understand how to actually start your own Instagram-like app.

How to Create an App Like Instagram Successfully

In this section, we cover things to consider while building an Instagram-like mobile app.

For starters, development of any mobile app demands a lot of planning and preparatory work. The process of building a social photo-sharing app includes:

  1. Conduct market research to define your target audience and its preferences

  2. Evaluate competitive photo-sharing apps
  3. Finalize your unique and outstanding app concept
  4. Define your further strategy in terms of your goals with the project, budget, timeline, and technologies
  5. Prepare your marketing and PR strategy and start promoting the app from the early stages
  6. Build communication channels with your users to gain quick and up-to-date client feedback
  7. Select a capable development agency to design, develop, test, and launch your social photo-sharing app.
  8. Keep up with the competitors and evolve the project further with additional functionality, design elements, and reach out to new user groups

Understandably, photo-sharing application development requires significant investments. Of course, when creating an app you want to not only implement your idea, but also make money. Instagram’s revenue model consists of in-app advertising, sponsorship, and an online shopping platform.

The most widely used and appropriate ways to monetize the type of app being discussed:

  • Sponsorship and advertisements (In photo-sharing apps, businesses can create their own profiles, advertise themselves by posting images, and gain followers)
  • In-app purchases (here you have a wide range of things you can put up for sale, from custom filters and effects, to enabling users to sell their photos so that you receive a commission)
  • Offering special deals to active users

You may come up with a great photo-sharing app monetization strategy once you’ve read: How Do Free Apps Make Money in 2018?

Once all the project’s preparatory materials are ready, you can start building your own social media app like Instagram starting from the first version of the product.

This first version can be a basic photo-sharing app with the core functionality. Only the unique feature, app concept, design, and app branding makes a major difference at this point. It all helps to reach out to the target audience and create a strong brand mindset. Keep the following in mind:

  • Intuitive user-navigation
  • Clear designs (UX/UI)
  • Eye-catching graphics and visual element (e.g logo)
  • Personalized feed
  • Well-functioning application

To finalize this part, here is a list of tips and recommendations for developing a photo-sharing app. These are things you may want to consider to succeed in creating an app similar to Instagram:

  • Come up with a new and unique photo-editing tool inside the app. Create new filters, objects, textures, effects, and editing possibilities.
  • Create the photo-sharing for a specific user group or themed app (e.g. designers, food or animal lovers, event-app etc). You may define this unique feature in a way that provides some value to this user group. In the end, you can create a great community.
  • Offer functionality to create themed photo albums and set the photo or post privacy to send invitations only to selected users.
  • Add functionality to share photos between phones and other devices easily without signing up.
  • Assist your users with some photo-editing lessons, or provide them with tips to create top-notch user profiles.

For a detailed guide covering the process from defining an app idea to its launch successfully, check the article: How to Make Your App Successful. A Detailed Step-by-Step Guide.

How to Build Your Instagram Project

Have you ever wondered how much it costs to build an app like Instagram?
In this article, we will estimate the potential expenses and explain how to develop a photo-sharing app.

Let’s imagine that you have decided to build a photo-sharing app like Instagram. The first thing you should do is to analyze the key features to decide in which direction you should start moving.

As well, take a look at the Instagram interface, as it is the best example of photo and short video sharing application with a simple, user-friendly, and stylish design. The app is so easy and intuitive that new users should not have any difficulties figuring out how it works.

Therefore, it is important not only to plan how the app will work but also its appearance.

Instagram Technology Stack

In order to begin your own digital project, it is necessary to know the basics of the technologies used in your project.

Instagram Tech Stack
Instagram Tech Stack

Instagram uses a vast number of different technologies, some of which may also be applicable in your startup. Instagram’s user app (front-end) is written in React Native, a cross-functional language compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. For the back-end (server-side), Instagram uses Python (Django framework) and HTML5.

To sum it up, Instagram coding languages and frameworks include:

  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • React
  • React Native
  • Java

Instagram also uses other tools for server management and compilers, and monitoring services making a great project infrastructure. In order to maintain such a loaded service, the company uses cloud computing services like Amazon S3, Amazon, EBS, and Amazon EC2. As well, PostgreSQL is a great solution for storing such a massive amount of data.

There is an even a better way to develop a social photo-sharing app - natively, using Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android, to provide the best app performance and user experience.

Basic Functionality of Instagram-like App

Once all the preparatory materials are ready: project mind map, functional specification, WBS (work breakdown structure), etc., it is possible to start with actual app development. All these pieces are required to build your own custom social media app.

Also, our team can help you with process to finalize the idea and to prepare a mind map and functional specifications for the project. Feel free to book an hour-long, free consultation with our Business Analyst.

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Below are the features that the core version of an image sharing app should have. Let’s examine these basics of an Instagram-like app:

1. Authorization

  • creating a new account
  • signing in into the existing account via social networks (there is an option to develop login via e-mail, but we do not recommend implementing this feature in the first app version since it is rather time-consuming)

2. Editing profile

  • adding personal data
  • editing personal data
  • removing personal data

3. Post creation

  • uploading pictures taken in the app or existing images from the gallery
  • mentioning people, adding tags

4. Feed

  • subscribing (one-way following)
  • liking
  • commenting

5. Social features

  • sharing
  • inviting friends from Facebook

6. Image customization
Standard options like:

  • cropping
  • rotating
  • image adjustments
  • applying filters

7. Geolocation features

  • determining the geolocation of the existing image
  • determining current geolocation and adding it to the post

8. Messaging

  • text and photo messaging

9. Notifications

  • push notifications

10. Search

  • by username or full name
  • by tags
  • by post description

For more extended information and other specifics in social networking projects, read the article: How to Create a Social Media App.

How Much Does It Cost to Make an App Like Instagram?

In the table below, you can see the approximate time estimate for the first basic version of a photo-sharing service:

Cost to Make an App Like Instagram
Cost to Make an App Like Instagram

As for the design of a social photo-sharing app:

  • UX will take approximately 64-96 hours
  • UI takes around 48-64 hours

Additional design features can take as many as 16 hours and will depend on the complexity of the tasks. Keeping things simple and unintrusive is the best you can do here. All the icons, images, and fonts should be easy to perceive and inviting to the eye. As well, don’t forget to develop a great logo for your app; one that will distinguish it in the market, attract users, and pass along its message.

Given all of this data, let’s consider the approximate development cost for this kind of app. For calculation, we use a rate of $40 per hour (an average rate in Ukraine). In this case, the approximate cost for iOS development will range from $15,000 to $23,500. The price may vary from $13,000 to $21,500 for an Android app. Backend development will amount to approximately $10,000 - $17,000.


Total App Development Cost = (Development Time iOS/Android + Development Time Back End + Design (UX/UI) + Business Analysis + Project Management + Quality Assurance) x Hourly Rate

Based on this data, in total, development of the first version of a custom social networking app will cost anywhere from from $50k to $80k.


On the other hand, it is hard to specify the cost to develop a social networking app without project specifications, especially considering we highlighted the importance of having a unique functionality. Thus, the presented information is just an example of the simplest social networking app. It is worth mentioning that the development cost will depend greatly on such factors as:

  • Project priorities & constraints
  • Business goals & context
  • Budget constraints & timeline
  • Developing vendor

  • Technology preference
  • Complexity of project functionality & design

In order for you to understand the estimation of a digital project in regards to a process and timeline, you can read the following article: How Much Does It Cost To Make An App?

KPIs to Follow for an App Like Instagram

You will need to measure the performance of your app; therefore, its Key Performance Indicators should be considered when developing your product.

1. Users
The first indicator to pay attention to is the number of active users. You can grow the audience engaged in your app, with the help of social media marketing, invitations to top users, and referral programs.

Regarding social media marketing, it is advisable to start your campaign at least half a year before the intended product launch date. It is a good idea to create pages for your app on social networks to reach out to your target audience. Rewarding users with features when they invite their friends to use your app is a thoughtful step that can quickly increase the overall number of users.

Like any application, social platform has its influencers, you can invite relevant celebrities to your app by giving them unlimited access and possibilities to promote themselves. In return, numerous fans of the influencer will join the app to keep in touch with updates from their favorite celebrity.

2. Engagement
The quantity of users who sign up for your app does not determine success on its own. There are other significant factors like the average amount of time people spend in the app, frequency of daily logins, number of files they upload, and likes they leave. All these indicators show how dedicated the users are and how likely they are to continue using the app.

3. Retention
You should remind users about your app occasionally, when it is convenient for them. Push notifications serve this purpose. However, before sending any, you should study your audience and schedule your pushes when the users are more likely to be available and willing to spend some time in the app. There are other ways to keep them in the application like organizing various competitions for the best-themed pictures, quizzes, and giveaways.

Being original is a must here. Do not cling to the illusion that you can make a fortune developing an Instagram clone. Since there is a successful original app out there, its users are not likely to switch to an unknown social media app unless it offers something very special that Instagram lacks.

For a startup, consider developing a unique product that will boast exclusive, attractive features. You might think of making a private photo-sharing application where pictures will be available to certain groups of people only. Chances are, you can create a successful photo-sharing app for events.

One more option would be to let users put a price on their pictures, so that businesses or bloggers could buy them or invent something else unique. No matter what killer feature you settle on, double-check whether or not it has already been done.

The Bottom Line

All in all, the development of a photo-sharing app like Instagram is all about picture processing, transferring, and storing. Pay attention to the fact that setting standards for the images that users want to upload is a must to ensure good looks in the profile gallery and feed. Instagram solved this issue by squaring. You can come up with any other idea for aligning and optimizing the images in your app.

Now you know how to make an app like Instagram and what is necessary in order to get the best outcome. If you deliver the highest quality product to people and do your best to enable them to fulfill their needs in an easy and convenient way, success will find you. Do not forget to keep up with the latest trends and remember that the largest amount of room you will ever have is the room for improvement.

Yummi App
Yummi App

Our team has experience in creating social photo-sharing apps. Yummi app is a platform to help track and share your eating adventures. The project keeps evolving and adding new functionalities.

Interested in developing an app similar to Instagram?

We can design, develop, properly test, and launch your photo-sharing app project. Reach out to us for additional details for building your own Instagram app.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

How much money was invested in Instagram?
The Instagram app idea seeded funding worth $500,000, which allowed for the building of a product on iOS, Android, and Windows phone platforms. Furthermore, after two more funding rounds, the project collected $57.5M in total from ten investors.
What technology stack is used in the Instagram app?
Instagram’s user app (front-end) is written in React Native, a cross-functional language compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. For the back-end (server-side), Instagram uses Python (Django framework) and HTML5. Amazon cloud computing services are used to maintain such a loaded service. As well, PostgreSQL is a great solution for storing such a massive amount of data.
How does Instagram make money?
Instagram earns profit with the help of the advertisement placed in the user feed or stories. To mention, these days, the application resembles an eCommerce platform or a marketplace, which promoted different products and services, rather than a social network.
How much does it cost to develop a simple version on Instagram?
The cost to make the first version of a custom social networking app like Instagram ranges anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 (taking the average rate in Ukraine, $40 per hour). This includes services like UX/UI design, quality assurance, front-end and back-end development. To note, it is hard to specify the cost to develop a social networking app without project specifications and the presented information is just an example of the simplest social networking app.