To create the film Paris Je T’aime, 22 directors came together to compose a series of vignettes that embodied The City of Light in tones romantic, humorous, poignant and above all, endearing. Each was a miniscule, slice of the life from just one or two characters, and each embraced the essence of Paris in a way that was both intensely personal but still undeniably universal. Instagram, the latest app cum social network to take the iPhone community by storm, does the very same thing—except for the entire world.

For onlookers, the significance and allure of Instagram is a bit hard to grasp. All the constituent functionalities that comprise this app are familiar and basic. Here’s what Instagram lets you do:

1.       Snap photos with your iPhone.

2.       Apply artistic filters to your snapshots and…

3.       Share them with the Instagram community, where they are open to comments and “likes.”

Instagram is also wired together with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and Posterous, making your tiny little window into your world even more visible. And that’s what’s really at the heart of the Instagram craze. It’s not the opening of the window—it’s what happens when others peer into that window. It’s an experience that’s more intimate, more fascinating and more mind-opening than any other medium out there right now. You get to see life through someone else’s eyes in a simple, yet deeply layered and significant way.  If Twitter amazed us by showing us what could be communicated in just 140 characters, Instagram is truly proving that a picture is worth much, much more than a thousand words.

Still, the enchanting quality of the app remains somewhat ineffable. And that, perhaps is what keeps it so popular. After just three months and six weeks on the App Store, Instagram has added 2 million users to its ranks—proof that Instagram is on to something, even if no one is 100% sure what that is.

Science writer Clive Thompson gives the best explanation: “It changes the way I look at the world around me.”

Those filters that Instagram lets you apply to your snapshots so effortlessly—they have a sort of Warhol-esque effect on the things that we see in our everyday world. They ask us to notice different things about the subjects in our lenses and glean different meanings from the lenses of others.

And if that is the sprinkle of magic dust that has transformed mundane cell phone camera pictures into a phenomenon, then the social connectivity is the glue that makes it stick. Instagram lets you connect with strangers on the other side of the globe in a way that feels immediate and personal—as if you had a common understanding about their world, even if only for a moment.

For example, a picture of a cloud of Japanese cherry blossom petals in flight recently made the “Popular” tab on Instagram. It’s a stunning image that’s vaguely familiar to anyone who’s seen a travel film or an inspirational poster marveling at the ephemeral nature of life. But on Instagram, it had a different significance. You are aware of the fact that another Instagram user, just like you, actually stood there, took that photo and shared it. And because it moved them in a special way, it moves you, too.

From a distance, it may seem like Instagram is a technological shift. But it’s not. The fact that a snapshot of a pair of shoes, a cat’s whisker or an airplane in the sky can give us a pause has little to do with any technological breakthrough in recent months.  Our cameras have long been powerful enough. Our networks have long been fast enough. The technology is there, and it’s been there for years. This tiny revolution, and many of the ones that will follow it, will be about how this technology brings people closer, makes voices more equal and lends compelling sights, sounds and ideas more relevance, immediacy and personality.

At Firm Media, that’s the kind of difference we’d like to make, too—and we think social media, the web and more meaningful personal connections are the way to do it.  Contact us or attend our next webinar to find out how we can make your business more social.

In the meantime, why not check out how major nonprofits and brands like @RedBull, @Brisk Iced Tea, @NPR, @Kate Spade and @Charity:Water are using Instagram to engage audiences in innovative ways.

Check out some of these people for great pictures;  @jean916 and @josephllanes

Also, feel free to follow members of the Firm Media team; @suchanekc, @thommeredith, and @jackbusch.