I’m on the couch, watching TV, but I couldn’t tell you what’s playing. I have no clue what’s been said or done during the show because the entire time it’s been on, I’ve been browsing through Instagram.

Apparently I’m not alone. At last public count, Instagram users numbered over 5 million and it continues to grow every day. But what is it about this app that sets it over the top? Why do we see applications on other platforms that have the sole purpose of letting you view Instagram photos? What’s so important that we have to print out these photos onto postcards?

There’s no short answer to these questions, and Master’s Cantidate at Cambridge University Zachary McCune knows that better than just about anyone. Over four months of work has gone into McCune’s 80-page dissertation in which he examines the ins and outs of what makes Instagram the whole of what it has become.

McCune spent time at a London Instagram meetup, as well as examining the behavior of people who use the app. What he found is, in some cases not at all surprising, but in others almost shocking. Here are a few of the high-level points of his study’s findings:

  • Popularity within the network requires both publishing and interaction.
  • Instagram users are concerned with being unique in their work.
  • Even popular locations will often have a unique vantage in the photo to set them apart.
  • Users are not tied to one app, often times using multiple ones to produce a single upload.
  • There is a near-equal gender split, and the app is popular across a wide range of ages.

McCune notes in his findings that people often share photos on Instagram for the very same reasons that they do otherwise — to share in experiences with others. However, that “instant society” justification of their work continues to be a strong force in the app’s adoption and widespread use.

McCune’s findings are pared down in a 5-page executive summary which I’ve embedded here. For the full, 80-page report plus a bit of insight from McCune himself, hit up his portfolio site.

Consumer Production in Social Media Networks: Executive Summary