Hipstamatic Is Back, Except Now It's a Photo-Sharing Social Network

But you can only follow 99 people

  • Hipstamatic is as old-school as photo-sharing gets but with a modern design. 
  • It's an antidote to Instagram's bloat, and you can only follow 99 people. 
  • For private sharing with friends, you may prefer to use messaging apps.
A photographer working in a home office with camera equipment sitting on the desktop.

ferrerivideo / Getty Images

Hipstamatic, the cult-hit iPhone camera filter app of the late oughts, is back as a photo-sharing social network—and we're totally here for it. 

The original Hipstamatic predated Instagram by almost a year, introducing the world to the kind of image-destroying filters that we loved, overused, and then regretted years later. And now Hipstamatic has returned as the kind of simple, photo-focussed sharing service that Instagram used to be, once upon a time. But is the world ready?

"To be clear, we still don’t see Hipstamatic as a true alternative to Instagram. Between the community-supported business model, the limitation on following 99 accounts, and the continued exclusivity to iPhone, Hipstamatic won’t become the new photo network for the masses. At the same time, it doesn’t have to. At this point, Instagram is such a beast of a product," Hipstamatic founder Lucas Buick told Lifewire via email.

Hipstamatic Isn't Like Instagram

Calling Instagram a photo-sharing app is like calling Amazon a… a photo-sharing site. It has been a commerce, business-networking, lifestyle-faking, direct-messaging platform for ages now. It has morphed into something utterly essential but that nobody seems to actually like. If you want to share a cool photo with friends, you do it via WhatsApp, not Instagram. 

The trick with Hipstamatic is that you can only follow 99 people, so you have to be fairly picky about who you choose. And equally, nobody's going to get Kardashian-level follower numbers and turn into a shill, aka influencer. 

Hipstamatic artwork.


"In 2023, I think authenticity wins out, and given the history of Hipstamatic as a product and as a company, I feel like we have a lot of credibility within the mobile photo space," says Buick. "The new Hipstamatic is a better version of the still photography experience that was once core to Instagram, but long forgotten as the network scaled to turn photos from art into content and transformed your friends into an audience."

If people are sick of that grind, they now have a place to go. 

"The TikTok-ification of Instagram has gone way too far. Seriously—I just want to be able to post photos and not have to dance in front of the camera to get engagement! I think photography professionals as a whole would be interested in a way to present and share their work online that is beyond what Instagram has to offer," professional photographer Alan Luntz told Lifewire via email. 

Photo-Sharing Through the Hipstamatic Lens

Hipstamatic keeps its original concept of looking through the faux viewfinder of a film, or "analog" camera, and you can add filters if you like. If you ever used Instagram before it bloated into its current form, you'll be familiar with sharing, following people, and viewing your timeline.

The app has no ads, and the team is flat-out against taking VC money, but the money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is plentiful in-app purchases. When you first take a look around, it feels like every button you tap brings up a prompt to become a paid member to access more virtual camera models, filters, and so on. It even starts during the sign-up process, where you have to pay up or settle for a truncated username with four random digits appended. Membership, it says, can remove those digits. 

A screenshot from the Hipstamatic app.


Badgering aside, it's a nicely-made app and is actually useful even if you don't want to do a lot of sharing. The app awards stamps (as in passport, not as in mailing a letter) as you snap and post photos from various places. You can use it alone, without sharing anything, and still get a kind of scrapbook/collector groove going on. 

But Hipstamatic's biggest rival might not be Instagram or even a fediverse photo-sharing service like Pixelfed. Its stiffest competition may be from WhatsApp, iMessage, and other places where people share private photos with each other. That's the private social space where we only share with people we know.

I wrote about the launch of both Hipstamatic and Instagram, and now I'm writing about the relaunch in a very, very different world. Time will tell if the new Hipstamatic will catch on this time around, but one thing is certain: we need a different paradigm, and this one might be it.

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