Putting a name to the free-floating dread inspired by the Facebook/Instagram acquisition

I really enjoyed Paul Ford's New York Magazine story on the Facebook/Instagram acquisition. By building his analysis on the way that the "user experience" focus is different in different parts of Facebook, and within Instagram, Ford captures something that's been missing from the coverage, a way of looking at the acquisition that puts a name to the free-floating anxiety that many Instagram fans have felt. Plus, he uses the phrase "Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever." Zing!

Remember what the iPod was to Apple? That’s how Instagram might look to Facebook: an artfully designed product that does one thing perfectly. Sure, you might say, but Instagram doesn’t have any revenue. Have you ever run an ad on Facebook? The ad manager is a revelation — as perfectly organized and tidy as the rest of Facebook is sprawling and messy. Spend $50 and try to sell something — there it is, UX at its most organized and majestic, a key to all of the other products at once.

To some users, this looks like a sellout. And that’s because it is. You might think the people crabbing about how Instagram is going to suck now are just being naïve, but I don’t think that’s true. Small product companies put forth that the user is a sacred being, and that community is all-important. That the money to pay for the service comes from venture capital, which seeks a specific return on investment over a period of time, is between the company and the venture capitalists; the relationship between the user and the product is holy, or is supposed to be...

When people write critically about Facebook, they often say that “you are the product being sold,” but I think that by now we all get that. The digital substance of our friendships belongs to these companies, and they are loath to share it with others. So we build our little content farms within, friending and upthumbing, learning to accept that our new landlords are people who grew up on Power Rangers. This is, after all, the way of our new product-based civilization — in order to participate as a citizen of the social web, you must yourself manufacture content. Progress requires that forms must be filled. Thus it is a critical choice of any adult as to where they will perform their free labor. Tens of millions of people made a decision to spend their time with the simple, mobile photo-sharing application that was not Facebook because they liked its subtle interface and little filters. And so Facebook bought the thing that is hardest to fake. It bought sincerity.

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out (via Making Light)


  1. Although I have an Instagram account, as an amateur iphoneographer I was appalled to discover people were just using Instagram to take shots of their impending meal. Or cat.
    I found Picplz to be an alternative where most users genuinely wanted to upload good photos. Yes there are a lot of sunsets and cats galore, and teenagers who upload stuff they like rather than shots they took (a la imgfave) but it is still a good community.

    1. As they say, 90% of everything is shit…

      Reads a bit like a cross between “september that never ended” and some memetic hipster joke, btw.

    2. you’re “appalled” that people are using a photo hosting site to upload photos that they want to share? Well, I guess I’m sorry that they don’t meet your criteria for the proper use of the site. Sounds like you need to make your own service that you curate so only “good” photos matching your high standards are shown.

  2. I installed Instagram because I wanted to screw around with hipstery camera effects.  I have no interest in yet another “community” or social network or any of that, and little need for yet another place to upload photos to share them.

  3. Look, I do get and understand the ‘dread’ aspect:a bit like when folk feel pangs when a band they’ve liked since when they played small clubs get to play arenas etc.
    But to say, as the author does,that Instagram somehwo represents sincerity is off-kilter. Instagram is all about artifice. What the FB acquisition will do is rob certain Instagram users of a sense of being part of an exclusive clique. It can’t rob them of sincerity or authenticity that was never there.

    1.  You’re wrong. Instagram sincerely set out to make money, and they sincerely succeeded.

      They also succeed at adding an additional layer of homogeneity to some mediocre photographs. Never understood the fascination.

  4. I really don’t get the vibe that Facebook was buying anything new with Instagram as much as they were panicking about how many users were jumping ship, only posting through Instagram and no longer logging in to Facebook. I get more of a sense that it was a mix Microsoft style paranoia and Zuckerberg being impulsive with the abstract numbers involved.

    As for me, I was looking for a replacement anyhow since Instagram had been dragging its feet with G+ integration. Looks like I will now have to step up my hunt a little…

    1. This. I am one of these users, and I know I’m not alone. Facebook has, since I signed up years ago, become more intrusive, abusive, obtuse and obese. It should surprise no one that FB’s complete and total disregard for it’s users privacy, let alone their experience, would one day culminate in a mass exodus ala mySpace. 

      Instagram just became a new place to go – with No Messages to assail you. Just fun photos and for the ADD among us, no boring words to read – doesn’t every image have over a thousand of those anyway? Delightfully simple for all those in between times of your day and just as social.
      I just quit logging into FB altogether after that. 

      The community of IG is and has been tight and less nebulous than the ever changing face of my “friends.” For those of you that still can’t fathom why this acquisition bothers IG users, I guess you just weren’t ever a part of it. 

      …but hey, I’m no spring chicken. Big corporations ruining one more thing in my life is really no surprise – at least it makes searching for the next bastion of fun a bit more exciting!

  5. Just wait till the IPO goes through… then whatever they touch will only ever be about money

  6. I can’t get over how many people are shocked that a VC company flipped for a big pile of cash.  What else was going to happen?

    The goal of Instagram, which has been shown to be “make a ton of money”, is unlikely to change with Facebook’s acquisition. The people who think it had some other reason to exist, they’re the naiive ones.

    It’s a nice app and all, but come on, even Premier League football teams have a thinner mercenary streak than the average VC startup, in that VC is all mercenary.

  7. I’m thinking the billion is a kind of penance Facebook is having to pay for sucking so bad.

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