instagram screen shot

Instagram has exploded in the iPhone.

Somewhere between yesterday afternoon and last night, Instagram hit 3 million users after only six months of existence. To put that into perspective, that’s like 1% of the population of the US using a service that currently only fully exists on a iPhone…

Instagram’s explosive growth has made them the current go-to success story for pivoting and unleashed a torrent of buzz around the white hot photo-sharing space. But foundersKevin Systrom and Mike Krieger don’t think of the service as just a simple way to share images, but as more of mechanism for users to tell stories and discover the world around them, a “new entertainment platform” the co-founders told me in an interview for TCTV yesterday.

“By no means do we think of Instagram as just a photo-sharing service,” said Systrom. “It’s something that a lot of people lump us into, but we’d like to think of ourselves as a storytelling service. It’s the way you go out in the world and tell a story about your life, and it’s a new entertainment platform. You can open it up and see a story about what your friends are doing, but also [that] ABC World News is posting photos of someone in Japan reporting on the nuclear crisis. It’s really moving to see those things coming together through images.”

During our interview Systrom and Krieger outlined a couple of interesting use cases for the service. Systrom explained how he often goes to and observes location-based phenomena like users uploading  pictures of the same sunset in Portland and in Seattle. Brands like Burberry who (has over 13,000 followers) hold man-on-the-street Instagram hashtag campaigns like #TheArtOfTrench to help build brand engagement.  BravoTV, which just joined the service a couple days ago, photographed and uploaded its entire Top Chef finale to #TCFinale.

The founders have a sharp idea of where the service is headed, including how they will eventually handle revenue. Systrom explained, “We’re moving in a very clear direction that will allow us to make money in the future. In the history of advertising the most profitable avenues of advertising have been pushing images to people. As we see outside of the digital world those verticals are struggling in one way or another, money is moving online. We’re going to be one of the largest ways to push images to people, that entertainment platform I was talking to you about. That puts us in a really interesting spot in terms of making money on advertising in the future.”

The co-founders are cool with sacrificing short term profits for long term value. “What is uninteresting to us is charge a user 99 cents and never see them again model. To be a world changing company we need to think bigger than that,” Systrom continues.

And while both co-founders do insist that an Android app and website are both in the works (they’re “thinking really critically about them”), their grander goal for the product goes beyond any particular avenue for distribution, “Our vision for Instagram in the long run is seeing the world as it happens through other people’s eyes.”

Instagram currently has $7.5 million in funding from Benchmark Capital, Baseline Ventures as well as investment from angels Chris Sacca, Jack Dorsey and Quora’s Adam D’Angelo.