It was announced today that Facebook has acquired the popular mobile photo sharing and hipster filtering app Instagram, which has been available for some time on iOS and recently launched for Android phones. The deal was sealed for somewhere in the region of $1 billion in cash and Facebook stock, which is an excessively large amount of money by anyone’s standards.
I shan’t go into the ins and outs of the business side of things here (check my colleague’s posts over on Inside Facebook for more details as well as a bit about what FB and Instagram have been up to together) but what I did want to talk about a little was the public reaction to the news.
In short, the reaction has not been overly positive, at least among the people I follow on FB and Twitter and their friends. I have seen numerous comments today that are simply along the lines of “oh, fuck” without any real explanation — basing their negative reaction simply on the widespread assumption that Facebook Is Evil.
As it happens, some of these people may be right to be a little concerned for the future of Instagram. Facebook has gobbled up several other social services over the course of the last few years, and the result has often been that said services disappeared without a trace. Location-sharing Foursquare rival Gowalla, for example, shut down its service a short while ago as its founders and key team members were reassigned to work on Facebook’s own location service. Meanwhile, group messaging service Beluga was also swallowed up around this time last year, and eventually disappeared off the face of the Earth, only to be replaced by the Facebook Messenger mobile app.
Mark Zuckerberg has taken great pains to attempt to assuage the fears surrounding Instagram, however, noting that a key part of the service is its connectivity with non-Facebook networks such as Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr and Posterous. If Facebook is truly planning on keeping Instagram as its own independent entity to begin with, it wouldn’t make sense to remove the facility to post to these other networks. What is probably more likely to happen is that Instagram’s popular photo-filtering features will make their way into the official Facebook apps, making it even easier for people to take faux-retro pictures at every opportunity.
Perhaps Facebook will dissolve Instagram eventually, and that will be a bit of a pain for those who have Instagram but not Facebook accounts — but it won’t be the end of the world as some people seem to be suggesting. There are plenty of other “hipster photo filter” apps available — Streamzoo and Lightbox appear to be two popular suggestions — and, in my purely anecdotal experience, the apparent majority of people who use Instagram use at least one other social service alongside it anyway, even if it’s not Facebook, meaning they can simply direct followers to their Twitter/Tumblr/whatevr if and when they start using another service.
So Instagram being taken over by Facebook isn’t cause for sadness, anger or irritation. It was a completely free service, after all, meaning in practice it had no real obligations to remain the way it was forever. Instead, we should be celebrating the fact that a small team succeeded in living the dream — to create something simple, fun and popular, and subsequently to make an absolute fucking butt-ton of money out of it. It’s a success story of the modern age, made all the more notable when you compare it to the $35 million Yahoo! paid for Flickr back in 2007.
So if Facebook taking over Instagram bothers you, simply use something else — there’s plenty of alternatives, as outlined above. In the meantime, the two companies can work on better integration of Instagram’s popular features into what is, like it or not, the world’s biggest social network. If you had paid money to use Instagram then you may well have a slightly stronger case for being pissed off; as it is, what we have here is a small company who offered its services to the public for free taking a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity — and, more to the point, no real evidence that Facebook’s involvement will in any way compromise what the service is now.
As with so many things on the Internet, perhaps it’s best to wait and see what happens before getting irrationally angry or sad about this. Otherwise all that jerking’s going to put your knee right out of joint. So to speak.