Facebook Buys Instagram: What Does it Mean?

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This is an important milestone for Facebook because it's the first time we've ever acquired a product and company with so many users. We don't plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.

I'd argue "best photo sharing" claim with him until kingdom come, because, just no, and amend his statement in my head to "we don't plan on doing many more of these until the next cool thing like Instagram comes along that can feed the Facebook hydra," but yeah. Users. Instagram has them, and now Facebook does too -- along with all of our tasty, marketing-fodder data. (Not to freak you out or anything, but Zuckerberg and his algorithm knows where you drank that mimosa in that artfully composed shot from Sunday. [Seriously. It was. Well done.])

There are too many unknowns to say right away what effect this acquisition will have on the user's Instagram experience or what will happen to the images, for that matter. People who love it best seem to enjoy what I call its "visual Twitter" sensibility -- the ability to express in a mobile photo whatever you're doing and wherever you happen to be, in real time, with the option to cross-post to Twitter and/or Facebook if you feel like it.

I also, as a longtime Facebook user who posts very few of my photos beyond mobile uploads there (and yes, almost all of them from Instagram now), like the idea of separation. Facebook's native uploading features are clumsy; its photo display and sharing options lacking. And I flat-out dislike this new Timeline era of cover photos and enormous images.

Well hello, pores! Good morning, disproportionately large spring flowers that threaten to eat my coffee cup!

I get it, Zuckerberg. You're embracing visual. Still, simmer down. I also still mostly dislike the tagging feature (from a courtesy and a privacy standpoint) and rarely use it. A separate but equal Instagram leaves ownership of a much cleaner, less invasive service -- one that Facebook is then, one would presume, only now free to screw up at will.

As far as what Facebook can do for Instagram users? Meh, not much that I can see, but like I said, I'm not a fan of Facebook photo-sharing features and I admittedly really like Instagram. I like its relative ease of use, its displays and basic filters, its low-key commenting/community-building features. I have little interest in popularity, so haven't delved into the "popular" image race. I can also already send my Instagrams to Facebook if I want to, which I often do, but I'm just not interested in a reverse relationship at all.

So much of this and other social media deals of its ilk seem to be about the same things -- appearance, ease of use and privacy. As much as people complain about Facebook and reports abound of unhappy Instagram users cancelling their accounts in response to this move, Facebook had almost 850 million users in December, 2011. That is almost one billion people on Earth, with an estimated 80 percent outside of North America. I don't know a whole lot of math, but a loss of even a fraction of Instagram users would be a negligible loss for Facebook, including people who aren't already existing Facebookers. They'll be okay no matter what, and they know it.

And as far as privacy goes, I still maintain my sometimes unpopular view: Privacy on any app, especially one that you're willingly providing with your personal information, intellectual property, or creative work, is a vast gray space, best handled with care. I have never posted anything to Facebook or Instagram that I would consider an obvious potential source of profit or renown, nor anything that would cause me great sadness were it copied or otherwise misused. Facebook hate-spew aside, I'm well aware of who is in charge of whatever I place on a third-party site, and that is the third party, not me.

Will Facebook now have a license to use any of my photos? I figure they do even now, so I don't put anything there that I'd hate to give up; and while I've honestly never thought about Instagram and what they could take, I still think I'd always consider it my problem if a site used my image when I willingly put it there, with no watermark. It's a weird trade-off in my social media life that I'm willing to make. Other people may choose differently, and that's cool too, but I fundamentally believe that if you put your work in a public space, it may be upsetting, but not unsurprising, if it gets jacked.

Like it or not, legal or ethical or not, that's how I've come to terms. That means that the important stuff is on my hard drive or in my hot little hands, not living on an Instagram server for Mark Zuckerberg's choosing (although it appears that he has some disposable income, so if he likes something, he's free to use my number. I'm pretty sure he has it.)

How about you? Are you on Instagram? Will you stay there?  

Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr.

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