Facebook Buys Instagram: What Does it Mean?

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I was just about to upload a photo to Instagram today (I am not making that up) when Twitter exploded with the news that Facebook had purchased Instagram for one billion dollars

instagram photo
Lilypads by mikultcarter via Instagr.am

I forgot about Instagramming my picture and jumped into a Twitter stream whose general reaction can be summed up with the following:


2. Facebook is going to RUIN Instagram!

3. [Insert dumb joke about Facebook and Instagram here. My contribution? "Hey girl, I love your Nashville filter, but you're perfect in Normal." -- Instagrammist Mark Zuckerberg."]  

4. Mark Zuckerberg is going to steal my pictures of my breakfast! I hate Facebook! (Changing my status, BRB.)


This is all to say that the zeitgeist's kneejerk concerns appeared to revolve around fear that Facebook will destroy any privacy people think they have on Instagram, dissatisfaction with Facebook's user interface and how that will affect Instagram's look and feel, plus lots of exclamation points. And, as happens every time a wildly popular mobile app that is available for free or next to it is acquired for a lot of money, people wonder aloud "Why, oh why so much money?" and then wish they'd invented it.

This is a solid thing to wish. Mashable reported tonight that Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom stands to net $400 million from the sale, and co-founder Mike Krieger will make around $100 million. The company's estimated nine-to-13 employees (depending who is doing the counting) will split a remaining $100 million after investor payouts, based on how long they've been with the company. And Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg, who is sitting on a company expected to go public this week for around $100 billion, will continue to do what he does, whether it's liking status updates or counting his pocket change, I don't know.

Whew. Okay.

Now, as far as what this means for us, your everyday Instagram uploaders? Hard to say. Facebook has long been the photo upload leader (750 million photos uploaded over New Year's weekend 2010 alone, for instance, and an average of 250 million more added daily) and while some people do upload pictures with more concern for quality, the sharing and lifestreaming focus of the pictures there is not different from many you'll see on Instagram.

So what does Instagram add? More attention to photo look and feel, naturally, as it will come with its photo editing/filter feature that people either love or love to openly mock. (I don't get the backlash here, considering "fine art" photographers have been transforming photos in Photoshop for more than a decade now, so why deprive people who can't afford an expensive program of the pleasure?) Facebook is rumored to have been fiddling with its own filtering features lately, something it can probably safely discard now apart from the existing app -- and thank the heavens, really. Who knows what filtering they'd have concocted?

Finally, in case anyone was worried about their Instagrams going directly into Timeline, Zuckerberg's statement made it clear on his own Timeline today that, at least for now, he isn't interested in mashing up Facebook and Instagram entirely:

That's why we're committed to building and growing Instagram independently. Millions of people around the world love the Instagram app and the brand associated with it, and our goal is to help spread this app and brand to even more people.

We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience. We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.

But what do I think Mark Zuckerberg wants, and why do I think he'd be especially jazzed to get Instagram on his digital continent? It's you, that's who. He likes to have a lot of you on his platform, and Instagram provides him with a lot of photo-shooting and filtering fingers. Thirty million existing Instagram users uploading more than five million photos each day? One million uploads from the new Android users in the first day they had access to the app, just last week? This is what he says about it:

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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