"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Technology
December 19, 2012


It’s been a tumultuous 48 hours or so for users of the popular mobile photography platform Instagram. Recent changes to the platform’s Terms of Use have created a firestorm of comment on line. Plenty of articles have emerged advising users how to save their images and delete their Instagram accounts, with most of the furore […]

ifc2 In Winter

It’s been a tumultuous 48 hours or so for users of the popular mobile photography platform Instagram. Recent changes to the platform’s Terms of Use have created a firestorm of comment on line.

Plenty of articles have emerged advising users how to save their images and delete their Instagram accounts, with most of the furore being directed at the suggestion Instagram was looking to sell users images to advertisers and as a test of user’s tolerance for privacy changes, much as Facebook has often done. In fact, some commentators have gone as far as to suggest the controversy says more about widespread distrust of Facebook, than problems with Instagram itself.

And, there are now reports Instagram has apologised for the language used and may update their policies in response to the backlash.

Why Care?

Is this really an InstaScam, or an example of InstaTheft as some Twitter users were calling it? Perhaps. Instagram, or should we say, Facebook, is really just trying to cash into something marketers and advertisers want from social media: the ability to tap into and exploit any buzz around their products and services.

For example, when I travel, it’s pretty normal for local tourism boards, hotels and other companies to retweet or comment upon images I post. I’ve seen it happen over the past two years not just in Singapore & Hong Kong, but in Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, and the UK & US. Enough to be able to say this is a global trend.

All Instagram was trying to do is create a more systematic and potentially lucrative approach and clear the way, legally for this to happen. We may not like this trend, especially when it involves cash being transferred for our images with no remuneration to us. But, this is a battleground social media services will revisit again and again.

Why Did We Like Instragram In The First Place?

Up until this week, I would have said the big trend for 2012 was videos mocking Instagram and mobile photography. From the wickedly satirical @thexavius: Portrait of an Instagram Artist to the downright comical Look at this Instagram (Nickelback Parody) we’ve all become aware of how self-referentially pretentious a lot of mobile photography has become.

As important as the “democratisation of mobile photography” might be, platforms like Instagram took off because they were fun. Now, the fun is gone for many users.

Where To From Here?

A lot of people are asking if the time has come to switch (or switch back) to Flickr, especially as they recently updated their mobile app. However, one wonders to what extent there might also be some PR behind this buzz as well, given how dead Flickr had been in the past 12-18 months. Other mobile services, like EyeEm are also getting some renewed attention in the wake of InstaGate.

The MySpace Lesson

It’s too early to tell if Instagram will decline as quickly as MySpace did. After all, many people threatened to quit Facebook over even bigger privacy concerns and, in the end, didn’t. But, it’s likely that Instagram will see a dramatic fall in loyalty from serious photographers and more tech-aware users.

The decline of MySpace taught us two things. First, when a platform fails, your followers may well not follow you onto the next big thing. Second, when a platform fails, it can fail in a dramatic, total, end of the world way.

In fact, I’m rapidly coming to believe the best way to approach social media is to assume any platform we use now may either be totally unpopular, or even, totally useless in three to four years time.

That’s why, for 2013 I’m not jumping from Instagram to any other mobile photography platform but, instead, moving my mobile photos onto a new part of this site. That will still allow me to share photos to other social platforms and let people interact with the images in a light and fun way.

After all, I’ve had my own domain for a lot longer than Facebook has been in existence and long enough to see MySpace and now Instagram rise and fall. Whatever might be the social flavour of the month, there’s still a lot to be said for having your own site, to tell your own story and share your own art, in your own way.

Toni 12 years ago

Investors ALWAYS expect a return on their investment, and for Facebook it is the users who are the product, rather than the social networks they create. However the FB crash will be much slower and more protracted than Myspace, which seemed to go from hot to disaster within a few months. There are no major rising contenders in social networking right now, and everything has become fragmented as smaller players have tried to use the social side to push their own USP. Google+ is deeply unattractive and restrictive in design, and requires for more thought to use effectively. Even Diaspora, once the hope for an alternative style of networking, has fallen victim to in-fighting, greed and hijacking as an adult-exclusive network for activists.

So I don’t see the fall of facebook happening with anything like the rapidity of myspace unless someone can invent and advertise some free virtual lifeboats pronto.

On a related note, I do wonder if the rumours about Facebook starting to charge that circulated a couple of years back were either genuine, or at least originated within the organisation, in order to test the water. Someone has to pay for all those servers & bandwidth, and the howls of anger almost certainly killed that route to financial independence. So all that was left was to sell access to users, and instagram is just a victim of user-meanness.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Toni – I’m not a Facebook user, but I get the impression they certainly try to test the waters by overreaching, the seeing how users react. They will no doubt continue to find ways to try and sell their users to advertisers and marketers.

Right now the MySpace analogy applies more directly to Instagram. Sure, Facebook is not going to disappear any time soon. But, we may well find that 2013 turns out to be a decidely shaky year for Instagram.

Toni 12 years ago

Sorry Fern – I was seeing FB & Instagram as being synonymous. It’s my expectation that they will try to merge them, or at least attempt to bring them closer together to some degree.

And if FB falls then will Instagram sink with it or be spun out? There’s a bunch of clones out there, but they’re all a bit pants (as was Instagram TBH, but 50 billion flies etc) or at least, they were when I tried some a few months back.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Toni – at the moment FB are trying to keep Instagram distinct. Like you, I suspect Instagram will eventually be rolled into FB, but what might precipitate that is the decline of Instagram, rather than the other way around.

Until recently, I would have said G+ via Snapseed was the best option for mobile photography. But, the latest iOS update for G+ has made it worse, not better, as a photo-sharing service. I don’t believe there really is a clear alternative right now.

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