Sure Shots?

Why images are taking over social networking

When Facebook dropped $1 billion last spring to acquire Instagram, a smallish app for sharing pretty pictures, the reaction from casual observers was a resounding "Huh?"

That was then. Today, Instagram touts 90 million users. GIF, the Web term for an easily shareable animated image, is Oxford American Dictionary's reigning word of the year. Snapchat, which lets smart-phone users send photos that self-destruct in seconds, is a global fascination. And Twitter, the paragon of text-based social networking, just launched a video client called Vine, which is quickly gaining traction.

The takeaway: now that smart phones allow for the rapid-fire sharing of...

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