The Instagram exodus that didn’t – and won’t – happen

user rage instagram

Taking everything concerning this Instagram dust up at hand, it’s understandable that many users are more than a little upset. I mean, this is Instagram we’re talking about. It’s more than just a social network for food pictures (really, skeptics, it is). It captures our cherished moments, not unlike a scrapbook. And… filters! Say what you want, but almost everybody loves a good filter. So the idea that those treasured moments and that unique community were being sold over without our consent or even knowledge rankled everyone considerably. 

But don’t worry! Per Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom’s official blog post, Instagram has no intention of selling your photos. All your hand-wringing was for nothing — except that this whole mess was revelatory of two things: One, that Instagram is very much in the business of making a good (and therefore marketable) product; and two: so long as Instagram continues to provide its beloved environment and features, most people aren’t going anywhere. (Sorry, Flickr.)

Surprise: Instagram is a business

Ever since Facebook purchased Instagram last April for a cool $1 billion, much ink has been spilled awaiting Instagram’s fall to the Dark Side. Some users even left back then, opting to lift their photo libraries off the service and close up shop. But Instagram would grow unabated, reaching 100 million users by September.

If that buyout wasn’t indicator enough, Instagram wants to scale its business to turn a profit. Profit is the key to its survival, and profit ensures it will stay as good as its growing user base expects. Profit was the guiding force that made Instagram cut itself off from Twitter so thoroughly, painting the decision as one that ensures users experience Instagram on Instagram’s terms. And one very easy, very lucrative way of achieving that end is advertising. Google does it. Facebook does it. Twitter does it. Instagram was going to try their hand at it sooner or later – this should come as no surprise. 

Instagram is still an excellent product

This fiasco notwithstanding, Instagram remains a great app, and it’s at the height of its popularity. The app just enjoyed a major update that saw its UI revamped and a number of features, including a new filter, added. That the backlash was felt so severely yesterday is a testament to how beloved the photo service is. It’s in Instagram’s best interest that the service stay as great as possible in the eyes of users. And Kevin Systrom, for his part, ensured that happened:

“Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.”

Systrom outlines how Instagram plans to “experiment” with ads in a way that’s Instagram-appropriate. Your photos are still very much your own, and your privacy is still of paramount importance. I’m willing to bet that if the media chaos surrounding the policy changes hadn’t happened, most of us would go on using the app, happy as can be, hardly noticing the changes. 

A mass exodus was never going to happen

To be sure, the language of Instagram’s original terms of service revision was terrible and worthy of criticism. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that services like Instaport and Copygram saw increased activity late yesterday. It would seem that Instagram has inherited the same kind of suspicion the internet usually reserves for Facebook.

But with that problem comes a certain pedigree. Think about it. How many times has Facebook enacted some seemingly insidious update that threatened your ownership of your very identity? Now, was there ever a mass migration to Diaspora*? No. Instead, Facebook remains ubiquitous, having reached one billion users this fall. Why? Because the real connections you’ve built far outweigh the headache a robust conversation about online privacy entails. Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk will of course address the mob, but that doesn’t mean they’ll forego the ad dollars expanding their business will bring.

Therein lies the silent compromise. Services like Facebook and now Instagram will never outright sell you off without your consent. You as an outspoken user have value. Rather, they’ll help you maintain your connections by being an awesome product, selling you off in the open. And that’s just fine. Flickr may well be a best-in-class alternative, but Instagram won’t surrender the crown so easily. And most of us don’t want a revolution.