Mike Isaac

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As Instagram Debuts Web Profiles, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Facebook

Welcome to the new era of Instagram. Brought to you by Facebook.

Instagram launched Web profiles on Monday morning, the first true attempt from the photo-sharing service to provide users with a more complete version of user identity accessible through the Web.

Simply put, it’s most everything you know about your profile page from your Instagram mobile app, but available on the Web. Until now, users could only access Instagram photos on the Web through a simple landing page, only including the photograph and the comments alongside the post. Beneath that, all your photos are laid out on the page, organized chronologically and grouped by month. It’s slick, and something that users have wanted for some time.

The company plans to introduce the new Web profiles over the next few days. Like Facebook’s user profile URLs, you can access your page via Instagram.com/your username, as soon as it rolls out widely.

Most interesting, however, are the design choices Instagram has made; the new Web profiles seem like something straight from Facebook’s visual identity playbook. Topping each users’ profile page is a mosaic of large-format images, splayed out across the upper half of the screen, much like Facebook’s drastic profile revamp from last year with the introduction of Timeline.

Instagram chief Kevin Systrom acknowledges as much. “Facebook has pushed forward what it means to have a profile online and how to most effectively communicate an overview of someone’s digital identity,” he told me in an email.

There’s a key difference from Timeline here, though (and a smart one, at that). Instead of one static banner image like Facebook’s Timeline, Instagram Web profiles are in continuous flux, a hodgepodge of all the recent photos you’ve taken using the application. “In this case, I think it’s more that we wanted people to have a dynamic billboard that represented a snapshot of their recent shots rather than a single shot,” Systrom said.

And while the two companies are in constant contact with one another — you know, considering Instagram now lives on Facebook’s campus — Web profiles are still very much Instagram’s baby. All the components of the app are present, just in a wider-frame format ideal for desktop viewing.

But the continuity between the two services makes sense. After the Facebook acquisition went through, the two companies have continually reassured users that Instagram will remain a standalone unit inside of Facebook. Yet incorporating a sense of visual continuity between the two properties is important; Instagram may not be acting under Facebook’s mandate, but Instagram is still very much a part of Facebook.

Aside from design, the new product is good for Instagram. Web profiles offer yet another channel for more user engagement. Despite the massive shift from desktops to mobile devices over the past few years, there’s obviously still a significant number of people using desktops to view the Web. Web profiles only offer more opportunity for Instagram to capture that demographic.

What’s more, the new profiles offer a hint of something we haven’t heard much of since Instagram came on the scene — a monetization plan. Now brands and businesses that use Instagram have a landing page to direct users to, in addition to inside the application. This could open the door to more down the line, perhaps something akin to Facebook’s “Pages” program made for brands and businesses.

“We believe this is a big step in allowing brands to have an Instagram home on the web where they can share recent shots with just about anyone,” Systrom told me. “We’re obviously very excited by the adoption of Instagram by the world’s major brands and we’ll continue to build products that suit both them and users alike.”

Perhaps then Facebook’s $715 million investment will begin yielding returns.

For now, I’ll just expect it to keep looking pretty.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald