Why Facebook + Instagram is good news

by Dan Goodswen in News Google+

The Facebook + Instagram deal is a movie in which Facebook has been cast as the pantomime villain, the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang out to steal the innocence of the Instagram kids

But we disagree. If this is a movie, it’s closer to the plot of The Fighter; in which the washed-up veteran helps train the younger sibling to become world champion.

A better analogy of the deal, certainly, bar the washed up part. Facebook is the current champ and shows no signs of being toppled any time soon.

So let’s take a breath, distil the sense from the madness, and discuss why Facebook + Instagram is good news.

It’s ours, and they can’t have it. 
“Facebook is evil,” they cry. “Let’s all delete our accounts, that’ll show them!”

This, a week on from the petulant reaction to the app’s much anticipated launch on Android, isn’t going to have anyone at Instagram or Facebook quaking in their boots.

Instagram is a great app with an engaged base of contributors – but users and owners aren’t the same thing.

The app was built by a couple of guys, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. It’s theirs.

In a miracle of engineering, genius and luck, they built it in 8 weeks and took it from unknown to number one photo app in the App Store in a matter of hours.

Initially, some of the appeal of Instagram was being part of a member’s only club. Die-hard users balked when Instagram for Android launched because they didn’t want Android users in their club.

They didn’t want their platform ‘diluted’, even though many Android phones have camera comparable or better than an iPhone.

The same thing happened when the Facebook deal was announced. But here’s the thing; for Instagram it was either evolve or die.

Instagram wouldn’t have been able to fight off better funded apps by bigger competitors forever. If not this deal with Facebook, Instagram may have been bought by another big company and gutted.

Facebook + Instagram is better than no Instagram at all.

Instagram wasn’t going to be free forever
Instagram is free to download. It doesn’t make any money. Thus far it has run solely on investment funding, meaning at some point they would have had to monetise to repay investors.

Either they’d have had to start charging for the app – driving away new users – start charging for filters, which would have pissed off their core fans, or start rolling out ads, which would have pissed off everyone.

Sure, at some point Facebook will seek to recoup their $1billion investment by making money from Instagram.

That doesn’t have to mean simply ads. Data is king, and Instagram will provide a ton of it via social graph integration.

Monetisation may come in the form of sponsored content and accounts, as it does on Twitter, or perhaps in the rebirth of Facebook Deals – dishing out offers to users who check-in with uploads from restaurants or hotels.

For now, the Facebook investment gives Instagram time, money and support to improve the app before monetisation in any form is even considered.

And let’s face it, whether you love it or you’ve never heard it, they need to make improvements.

Instagram is a flawed platform
Instagram works because it is simple. True. But it could also be argued that the app is too simple. It’s lack of features means it lacks true social and viral potential.

At the moment it’s a closed graph. Unless you go to the popular page, your feed is populated only by content created by users you follow.

Users can only like or comment on each other’s pictures. There is no curation aspect, no retweet/reblog/repin function, the same functions that have proved the success of Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

There is no way to manage more than one account. No way to filter posts into separate content streams.

You can’t, for example, have a separate account or separate stream for food pictures and sunset pictures, something which Pinterest has proved users want in order to better navigate content.

There is no tagging function on images, users can only be replied to in the comments, and then only users on the Instagram platform.

At least some of these gaps in the Instagram experience will be explored now, and hopefully we’ll have an even better native app to use.

Instagram isn’t dead
“Where’s Gowalla now?” said a user on Twitter, complaining that Facebook will be the death of Instagram.

But Gowalla, along with many of the acquisitions Facebook has made, was a secondary platform, miles behind Foursquare in terms of user adoption.

Facebook made those acquisitions to bolster their talent pool and internal development projects.

But Instagram is different. Instagram has a massive user base and no competitors in sight.

With that in mind, the app will continue as a standalone product, just as YouTube has underneath the Google umbrella.

As Kevin Systrom said in his official statement;

The Instagram app will still be the same one you know and love. We are excited to build a better Instagram for everyone.

This is a departure for the Facebook way of doing business. In the past, Mark Zuckerberg has favoured folding acquisitions into Facebook under that one brand name.

As part of the deal, Instagram will keep its branding and will effectively act as Facebook’s standalone photo app.

You don’t have to be on this train
The bulk of complaints against the Facebook deal have centred on Facebook’s use of data.

With Instagram now heading for deeper Facebook integration, possibly in the form of check-ins, tagging and friends, users are worried how Facebook will use that data.

The truth is they won’t use it any differently from the way Instagram would have used it if they’d have stayed an independent enterprise.

Part of that use is for advertising, sure, but it’s also about social integration; letting you share more easily with friends.

If you don’t like it, don’t stay. Perhaps this deal is the impetus you needed to leave and start your own photography app/community.

Perhaps you’ll be a $400m man in a couple of years time

The deal will improve Facebook mobile, too
450 million of us access Facebook every month from a mobile device, many to upload and share pictures.

The problem is that the functionality is bad. Facebook didn’t just spend a billion dollars buying Instagram to fix their photo app, but this will certainly be a benefit of the friendship.

This isn’t just about filters, this is about function. you can reminisce about pokes all you want; Facebook was built on photos.

Making them easier to upload, share and edit will keep Facebook on top for a little while longer.

If they’re willing to take Instagram along for the ride, with the brand and community in tact, then even better.

Are you for or against Facebook + Instagram? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

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  • http://twitter.com/dimmicks Steve Dimmick

    Nice article Dan.  Good to see someone trying to give a balanced review instead of the bah-humbug, I only liked them before they went commercial, baloney from many commentators. 

  • http://twitter.com/GraphicDesignNY ThinkLiveCreative

    All interesting points. I was never a major fan of Instagram for the very same,
    limited social, non-interaction, reasons you mention above. I saw its popularity as a sham bolstered by people that fell mostly in the amateur, hipster image-making realm. The app is nice and it works well, but there are plenty out there that do the same or better. Instagram did it’s best work in amassing a huge following and that seems to have paid off far more than any feature of the app itself. It’s hard not to be happy for the developers.
    What Facebook might do with it, somehow feels predictable. It will probably fall inline with the rest of their user experience format. I would have been super excited had Instagram went with Google to give G+ a boost.

    @GraphicDesignNY:twitter 
    “I’m Not Crazy About #Instagram” GraphicDesignNYC blog http://t.co/TKVGIAlB

  • http://twitter.com/hear2listen James Welch

    Great post, Dan. Answers will slowly unravel to the question that remains in my mind: how will we see advertisers be encouraged use Instagram-in-Facebook as a storytelling device? Could be exciting. What do you reckon?

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  • http://www.365socialmedia.co.uk/ App Developers

    Do people really spend huge parts of their lives using their phones to take photos and need to collate them to this extent?

     

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  • simoncollister

    “At the moment [Instagram's] a closed graph.” >> now it’s part of an even bigger closed graph ;-)