The holiday season is in full swing, and what better way to remember under-the-tree magic and mistletoe moments than with photos? These days, almost anyone can give their photos a professional look with the use of programs such as Instagram, a free photo-sharing program and social network that can be accessed by anyone with a smart phone. Users can apply photo filters that transform their pictures in seconds; making the same edits would take much longer in a professional photo-retouching program such as Photoshop.
Instagram has been sweeping the Web since it was launched in October 2010, and has more than 100 million registered users. Facebook recently purchased the program for nearly $740 million in cash and stock, integrating it further into the vast social networking site.
The company doesn't share demographic statistics, but according to Nielsen, Instagram is the top photography site among tech-savvy, smart phone-toting children ages 12 to 17, with 1 million of them visiting the site during July alone.
But will its popularity last? Valley teens have their own opinions about the program.
"Instagram is like Facebook with pictures," says Sam Sanchez, a junior at Gregori High School in Modesto, "But I like it better because it's simpler and easier to use. It doesn't pry into your personal life the way Facebook does."
Instagram takes away the pressure of posting consistently witty statuses and has a much less "wordy" atmosphere, providing an opportunity for teens to communicate visually rather than verbally.
"I use it all the time, almost every other day," says Sanchez. "Whenever something cool happens or I see something cool, I take a picture of it that's kind of how it works."
"I use it one to 10 times a day," says Jessica Ortiz, another junior at Gregori. "It's just a website where people can post pictures of either what they're doing or what they love. People can, like, comment or even tag people in (the pictures they post.)" Ortiz likes to post pictures of her cats.
Many teens go overboard and even make separate Instagram accounts for their pets as well as for themselves.
"I think (Instagram) will last probably the same amount of time as Twitter," Ortiz says. "When Twitter dies down, Instagram will also die down."
"I like Instagram because I think people are funny, and they do funny and interesting things without even knowing. I like to post pictures of interesting and funny people, or just cool things," says Diego Sevillano, also a Gregori junior. "Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr are all poppin'. I go on Instagram almost every day to check what's cool. I think it will last for a long time because it's so easy to use and it's connected to Facebook, and everybody uses Facebook."
Apps add to the fun
There are dozens of apps that help users get the most out of Instagram. For instance, the Prinstagram app provides options to print Instagram photos as mini-albums, posters and stickers. Others, including Instac.at, help users search for relevant Instagram photos based on hashtags (#) and keywords.
"It's hard to (predict the future of social networking sites) because so much stuff changes and there's trends and everything," says Sanchez. "Who knows, maybe in 10 years MySpace will come back."
Some users think that Instagram has lost much of its indie appeal since selling to Facebook, its leading competitor, but the program remains consistently popular even as its more hipsterish users flee to alternative sharing sites such as Tumblr.
"Tumblr is more about reblogging other people's pictures, not just posting your own," says Ortiz.
Unlike Instagram, Tumblr also allows text-only posts as well as videos.
On the recent explosion of social media and networking sites, Sanchez says, "There are good and bad things about it. There's cyberbullying, which is bad, but there's also a chance to reconnect with long-lost relatives and friends. I try to keep my life out of Facebook to a certain extent. I don't post every single detail of everything, and I don't get into other people's situations or post my opinions about those situations. It's like everything else, you have to take it with a grain of salt."
Annie Mathews is a senior at Gregori High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.
The Record (Stockton) contributed to this report.