Photographs by Erik S. Lesser for The New York TimesWith FACEBOOK ’s membership approaching 600 million, and more features and apps continually being added to the site, it sometimes seems as if it’s the only social network around. But it’s not the only one, even if it’s dominant. Specialized networks are catching on with users who prefer a more focused way to share photos, videos or music, or who simply don’t want everyone on Facebook looking at their pictures. Some of these networks leverage the existing huge audiences of Facebook or Twitter to let their users reach the maximum number of friends. But if you’re worried about Facebook’s potential privacy holes and want to steer clear of them, there’s a network for that, too.
INSTAGRAM Instagram, a photo-sharing network based around a free app for Apple’s iPhone, is the breakout hit of specialty social networks. The service, which was introduced in October, says that more than a million users have already signed up.
Instagram’s secret weapon is its built-in photo filters, which modify your pictures before you upload them. Some effects are corny, but some — like the sepia-inspired Early Bird filter or the soft-color Toaster — work wonders at removing the often harsh lighting and jarring colors of cellphone photos. With the help of the filters, the images may look better than those uploaded to other social sites, like Facebook.
Davin Bentti, a software engineer in Atlanta, uses Instagram to control where he posts photos.
“Instagram lets me share photos on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Posterous, Tumblr and Foursquare,” he said. “When I take a photo, I can put it everywhere without having to think much about it. But I can also put it only where I want it to go.”
For example, Mr. Bentti said, he skipped Twitter when posting a recent photo of his dog, because his Twitter followers are mostly professional colleagues.
To get started, download the free Instagram iPhone app, and sign up for an account. If you own an Android phone, be patient; an app for that operating system is in the works, the company said.
To find friends to share your photos with, start the app and tap the Profile option at the bottom right of its screen. Instagram offers several ways to find people: log in to Facebook or Twitter to see lists of your friends there who are already signed up with Instagram; search your phone’s contact list to match the e-mail addresses with existing users; send invitations to those in your contact list who have not yet signed up; search Instagram’s database of users and usernames; browse a list of suggested users whom the company has deemed worth following for their photos.
“We don’t see ourselves as an alternative” to Facebook, said Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive. “We see ourselves as a complement, to allow for sharing on multiple networks, all at once.”
PATH Path, a photo and video sharing network, also sees itself as an enhancement to Facebook; users can log in to Facebook to find Path users to share with. But Path limits the sharing to 50 friends at most, rather than with everyone you know. And you can’t post your Path photos to Facebook itself. Your friends need to check their Path app or Path’s Web site to see your images.
Path doesn’t connect to Twitter or other networks.
The idea, said Dave Morin, Path’s chief executive, is to make sharing photos more personal. That’s how Laurie Percival, of Los Angeles, uses it to share photos of Charlotte, her newborn daughter, with only eight people.
“Path seems more private,” she said. “I use it for moments with Charlotte I won’t share publicly.”
Instagram and Path let the photographer focus on taking and posting a photo, without the distractions of status updates, Twitter postings or extraneous information seen on other social networks. Both apps minimize the number of onscreen buttons and options.
Photographers who use both services say you should remember that your photos will probably be viewed on the iPhone’s relatively small screen, and so it’s best to stick to close-ups and headshots. With long-distance shots, individual people or interesting items, like a funny sign, will be hard to see.