How to make a social media app like Instagram?

Instagram is one of the world’s most famous social media applications. Launched in 2010 as a small product with just one key feature, it quickly transformed into a popular service. Available in 32 languages, now Instagram has 121.23 million monthly users from the USA and 1 billion active users globally.


As of today, it offers photo-editing, e-commerce, and messaging functionality. If you want to create your own social network app like Instagram you should consider the experience of this successful platform. 


In this article, you will learn:

  • More about Instagram app and its success story.
  • How to make an Instagram-like app.
  • What functionality you should develop in your best Instagram-like app.
  • What is included in Instagram tech stack.
  • Bonus from our software development company: A list of additional features that you can include in your social media application!

Let’s get started!


About Instagram evolution and success story

When thinking about creating your own social media platform, you’ve probably asked yourself “How was Instagram made?”, “Who was the creator of the Instagram app?” 


Instagram was invented by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Having experience in software development, Kevin designed a prototype, called Burnb, a mobile check-in service. With this product, he managed to raise $500,000 in seed funding from venture capitalist firms. 


As Systrom needed help to extend the app, he engaged Mike Krieger, who became a Co-Founder and CTO at Instagram. Under Krieger as CTO, Instagram grew from a million users to 1 billion monthly active users. Since Burnb was similar to other apps on the market, like Foursquare, they decided to concentrate on one idea—communication through images. 


This was the birth of an Instagram's MVP (minimum viable product) that included photo uploading, adhering it to a square with a few filters, and liking functionality. Thanks to this unique selling proposition, the new social photo-sharing app attracted 1 million users within two months. In 2012, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger sold their business to Facebook for $1 billion.


Many startups and product owners were inspired by the outstanding success story of Instagram free app. This spurred a wave of new social media applications that also gained popularity, such as Snapchat, Vine, Flickr, and Swipe.


What comprises Instagram functionality

At the moment, Instagram is a complex social media service with multiple features. Instagram free app is used not only by individuals but by various businesses. Emerging nearly 10 years ago, it has quickly become one of the most popular advertising and photo-sharing platforms. Plenty of new professions have appeared due to this product: bloggers, their assistants, Instagram copywriters, content managers, and story creators. 

Packing rich functionality, Instagram can be considered as a social photo-editing app, messenger, and an e-commerce platform:

1) Instagram as a photo-editing app

Instagram provides people with numerous filters to create beautiful photos tailored to every specific taste. Users can change various things that involve image contrast, brightness, warmth, etc., as well as put text, emojis, and other elements on them. 


When asking yourself “How to develop an app like Instagram?”, remember that photo-editing functionality is a top-priority feature. Customers enjoy having the ability to quickly and easily adjust their images to their preferences without installing the other product.


2) Instagram as a messaging application

Like other famous social media applications, Instagram has its own messaging functionality too. Users can communicate in direct messages (text and audio), create group chats, and comment posts. Instagram free app also supports video calling. 


3) Instagram as a large e-commerce platform for business

Businesses and individuals are able to launch advertising campaigns to promote their goods and services. Instagram receives a commission from each transaction carried out through the app. Organizations set profiles to demonstrate their products, share industry and company insights, increase customer loyalty, and build an HR brand to attract new employees.

Now, let’s see how to create an Instagram-like application. Take a look at 15 main features that comprise the functionality of this world-famous platform.


How to create an app like Instagram? Top 15 features

If you’ve decided to make an app like Instagram, you should take a look at the key functionality of this digital product. Explore 15 features of this world-famous service:

1) User authorization

To improve user experience, you can let them quickly register and log in with an email account, user name, phone number, or Google account.


2) User profile creation and editing

A basic feature that is included in most mobile apps. Users should have the ability to optionally fill out fields such as their names, age, gender, phone number, avatar, short biography, website, interests, etc. Also making the information in these fields editable. 


3) Photo and video uploading

To build an app like Instagram, allow the audience to publish posts containing images or videos, exchange photos or video files in messages, and create stories with them. You can also let users upload images and videos in the comments. Complement this functionality with post preview, tags, and content saving. 


4) Photo editing

Instagram free app is known for numerous capabilities of photo adjusting: a range of filters, a variety of image editing parameters, and elements.


5) Messages

Messaging is the core of any social networking service. Instagram allows text, audio, and video communication. When creating a product like Instagram app, integrate private and group chats into it.


6) Commenting

If you are thinking about how to make an app like Instagram, you should add this feature. Users enjoy discussing various topics, sharing and exchanging opinions in comments. 


7) Push notifications

Embed push notifications in your digital product, so that users are automatically alerted about new messages, likes, and comments. 


8) Likes

Liking (or upvoting like in Reddit, for example) helps users to interact with each other, showing that they enjoy someone’s content. This is a must-have feature for any social network solution. 


Instagram free app employs machine learning algorithms to analyze user behavior (including likes) and make personalized recommendations based on that data. 


9) Search

Focusing on communication, a social media application should enable users to search for content (audio, video, posts) and people. Instagram includes search by liked posts, tags, places, and accounts.


10) Geolocation

Include in your Instagram mobile or web app geolocation to let users share places—on photos, videos—where they have been and are at the moment. This feature is common for not only social media but for dating applications, too. 


11) Settings

Users should be able to adjust settings as they need, choosing the language, turning notifications on/off, making accounts private, changing profile information, etc. 


12) Stories

This feature allows sharing moments—photos and videos—with their followers. They are visible for only 24 hours and then disappear if the user doesn’t save them to highlights (i.e. collections of moments). Although other people can’t watch the story after a certain time period, the owner can access it in their archive.


13) Story editing

Instagram lets users edit stories with a range of stickers, emojis, live face filters, and other engaging elements. If you’ve decided to make an Instagram-like app, think about building this functionality.


14) Instagram TV

IGTV is another feature of Instagram free app. Representing vertical video sharing, it offers customers the opportunity to create a personal channel.


15) Shoppable posts

Thanks to shopping tags placed on the posts, users are able to make purchases via the platform. This is especially useful for organizations that want to open a new sales channel. If you are going to develop an app like Instagram but for businesses, this function will let you provide higher value to customers.

Whatever rich functionality you plan to include in your future application, it is better to start by creating a proof-of-concept, because this will 
help you determine exactly the features that your target audience will need

How much does it cost to make an app like Instagram?

Instagram has rich functionality that is hard to develop from scratch. The founders started by creating a minimum viable product and then extended it based on user feedback. We recommend taking the same approach.

Read our article about the total cost of apps in 2020
What is the cost of building a mobile app in 2020 and how to reduce it?

This will allow you to tailor a social media Instagram-like app to the needs and preferences of your audience and therefore, fill an underserved niche in the market. Furthermore, beginning with MVP development is significantly cheaper and less time-consuming. 


Let’s estimate how much it costs to launch a social network service with basic Instagram functionality.




The main features and their development time in hours:

  • Account authorization (70-75 hours)
  • Profile creation and editing (50-55)
  • Photo sharing and customization (140-400)
  • Messaging (140-145)
  • Geolocation (50-55)
  • Push notifications (65-70)
  • User settings (100-135)
  • Search parameters (25-50)




  1. Calculating the overall time for implementing this functionality, we project 640 to 985 development hours, which is between $44,800 - $68,950 in the USA.
  2. That is without UI/UX design costs, which are not included in this estimate.
  3. If you decide to outsource such a project to Eastern Europe, say, Poland, you will need a budget of $19,200 - $29,550.



We can help you compare the price of your App just right now.

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Instagram technology stack

To find out how to make an app like Instagram, you should learn the answers to common questions such as “How does Instagram work technically?”, “What is Instagram software architecture and tech stack?”.


Instagram uses a range of technologies. The front-end (client-side) part—what people see on the screens—is written in React Native, a cross-platform development tool that allows creating one product for iOS and Android instead of two. 


The back-end (server-side) is powered by Python and Django, a Python-based framework. Using Python, software developers implemented machine learning algorithms.




Therefore, the main programming languages and frameworks used by Instagram are:

  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Java
  • React
  • React Native

In order to ensure efficient infrastructure maintenance and high load support, the company employs Amazon cloud computing services like Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2. In addition, Instagram employs a PostgreSQL database for storing and managing user information including likes and comments.


Instagram monetization strategy

Instagram is a social photo-sharing service, which is available on iOS and Android for free. Although users don’t have to pay for installing and using a mobile application, it generates huge profits due to an effective monetization strategy. Like Facebook, the product generates revenue primarily from advertising. Have a look:

1) Sponsored posts

A sponsored post generally looks like an ordinary post but includes a CTA (call-to-action) button in conjunction with a sponsored tag.
This is the primary source of revenue. Facebook also successfully employs this monetization model.

2) Carousel ads

This kind of post is similar to a general publication but involves a few images that ad creators apply to tell a story.

3) Stories

This feature is widely used by companies for advertising their goods and services.
Short promotion videos pop up while the app users are watching stories of people they are subscribed to. 


If you’re developing a social network service, it’s reasonable to make it free. Since the market is full of similar digital products, it’s hard to convince the user to purchase the application without trying it. 


So you should choose a monetization strategy, for instance, in-app purchases (e.g., stickers, emoticons, filters), ads (businesses pay you for placing their advertisements in your product), or cross-promotion (you generate income from other mobile apps by advertising them on your social media platform). 


How can you make your social media app unique?

Don’t copy world-famous products or competitors when creating your own social media app like Instagram.

The market is full of similar solutions with Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and WhatsApp among other matured competitors fighting for users. While it’s reasonable to examine their experience, replication will just push users away.


The most popular mobile social media applications in the USA as of September 2019 (by monthly users)



Source: Statista


Provide your audience with unique value or a mix of features lacking in other products. When Instagram was invented, photo sharing and editing were used in different apps but separately. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger combined them in their service and achieved success. See what you can add to your mobile application. 

Top 5 cool features for your Instagram-like app

1) Short-lived posts

Short-lived or ephemeral content—content that automatically disappears after a certain period of time - is another trending feature that you can add to your social media app.
A great example is Instagram and Facebook stories: after publication, a photo or video uploaded as a story is seen to users for 24 hours.

Businesses, influencers, and bloggers use this feature to introduce their services, promote goods, and boost customer loyalty.
Individuals can use it to share glimpses of their life and highlight exciting moments.

You can allow the audience to set the time when their content will expire: in 30 minutes, a day, two, or more. 

2) Short-lived messages

This feature is widely used in modern mobile applications development.
Allowing people to communicate with self-destructing messages significantly increases the level of product privacy. 

3) Collections

Provide users with the ability to save content they like.
They can also create their personal collections and publish posts with links and images.

Although when Google+ included this feature it fell into the shade, you can build upon this idea to add value to your social network application.
Mix, formerly StumbleUpon, offers collections by interests. For example, art, culture, and technology. 

4) Subscriptions

Instagram also allows subscribing to users’ other profiles on different platforms.
YouTube—to channels (we consider YouTube as a type of a social media service as it includes features such as commenting and content sharing), Facebook, Linkedin, and Reddit offer subscriptions to groups.

What’s more, users can publish their own posts in them. 

5) Personalized emojis

If you want to entertain your audience and improve user engagement, think about integrating this feature.
There are two possible options.

First, you can allow users to create their own emoticons and stickers with the help of various elements.
Secondly, by employing face recognition, software developers can let people make cool emojis based on their own photos and use them in posts, profiles, and communication with friends.


Summing it up 

It took over 5 years for Instagram to transform from a simple photo-sharing application into a leading social media and advertising platform.

However, due to the unique selling proposition, the product attracted a million users within two months after launch.

This tremendous success demonstrates the importance of market research and the value that you add to customers. 


Planning to build a Social Network App? Feel free to drop us a message

Our team will be back to you within 24 hours to help you resolve all technical questions.

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