I would like to – first of all - provide a very important disclaimer: I’m not predicting that Facebook is going to run Instagram into the ground, the wonderful photo-sharing service for smartphones which it is acquiring, I am not claiming to be Nostradamus with this sort of thing so relax and read easy.
When I think of startups Facebook has acquired, yes it’s true that I think of FriendFeed (which it let slip into oblivion) and Gowalla (which it shut down). But Instagram, unlike FriendFeed and Gowalla, is already a spectacular success and Facebook is spending a whopping $1 billion on it because Mark Zuckberberg and company think it’s going to get even more popular, and of course simply because they can. They’re not dummies though, and they’re not going to neglect or destroy their new plaything with any willingness that’s for sure.
But still, if you love Instagram as much as I do — and even if you’re willing to give Facebook achance with this awesome app, as I am — it’s not illogical and unreasonable to feel slightly edgy about the acquisition. There aren’t a plethora of examples regarding scrappy startups being bought out by big companies and then continuing to be at least as good as they would have been on their own, when left to just kick back and flourish at their own pace. (One shining success story, which many folks pointed out to me over on Twitter, is Google’s acquisition of the massive video sharing site: YouTube.)
Instagram is so awesome due to the fact that it’s so entirely different from Facebook; I want to see it stay true to its own essence rather than start to reflect the world according to Mark Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook (but you already knew that). And if anyone at Facebook or Instagram is willing to listen, I just happen to have a few helpful pieces of advice:
• Keep Instagram fundamental and profoundly simple. Facebook is good because there’s just so much you can do there, it’s like a theme park for online socializing; Instagram is good because there’s almost nothing going on. I assume that a Facebook-owned Instagram will (I hate this word) iterate more quickly and more ambitiously than standalone Instagram has done up to this point. But I hope that “minimalist” never stops being a quality and attribute that’s appropriate to describe it. We’ll know it’s been officially ruined if it’s possible to write Instagram for Dummies, the usage bar should be held high and the learning curve extremely low.
• Please, please don’t confuse it with Facebook photo sharing. I get that photo sharing is an essential part of Facebook, and that Facebook can benefit from Instagram’s expertise at making photo sharing irresistibly simple on mobile devices. But Facebook photo sharing is about friends, family and events — socializing to say the least and, most often, photos that you want to share with people you already know. In contrast to this; Instagram, most of the time, is about moments that have universal appeal. It would be a mistake to make Instagram resemble the Facebook photo sharing method, or to make Facebook photos into all-round Instagram clones.
• Avoid letters and words. One of the most cool, charming, even inspiring things about Instagram is that the pictures do pretty much all of the talking. You don’t need to have a language in common with other members to enjoy their pictures, making it a remarkably universal social network and appealing – with little work necessary – to the worldwide masses.
• Don’t incorporate the idea of identity. Facebook is all about real people mapping out their real-life relationships. On Instagram, members who matter to the masses have one thing in common: they’re really good at taking memorable photos. That’s all I know about many of my favorite Instagrammers, and that’s how I’d like for it to stay.
• Allow people live within their own networks. Instagram looks like Twitter more than it looks like Facebook. One of the best aspects of Twitter is every user gets to choose who’s worth following, and can blissfully ignore and be ignorant of what’s going on in 99.9999999% of Twitter users’ pages and tweets (For the most part, anyway). Facebook will of course strive to have Instagram end up with far more users than it currently has, and that’s understandable — as long as any particular member’s feed still feels like a cozy little neighborhood rather than an overcrowded metropolis full of random strangers with comments and notifications bleating around it like it was a Vegas event or something.
• You should stay away from controversy. Facebook, which, I want to stress again, has a deep-seated willingness to tick off some people in pursuit of its overarching goals. Instagram, by contrast, is tranquil and void of any melodrama entirely. It’s the exact contrast of Facebook in that it’s a mellow and chilled environment. If it starts to make a significant number of people unhappy, for any which reason, it’ll have lost its sole purpose of existence.
I joyously admit that all of the above points are biased in that they are designed to keep Instagram interesting to me. Like all social networks, it’s very different things to different people, and it’s possible that there are such people as Instagram members, or prospective Instagram members, who wish that the service was more like Facebook, or that it was bursting at the seams with bells and whistles and everything in between.
So here’s a slightly less self-tasking request: Facebook, whatever you do, please make sure that Instagram stays the same when it comes to its quirkiness and lovability. That’s what makes Instagram and let’ say that you manage to retain it, Instagram will still be Instagram no matter what else happens.