Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quick to assure users on Monday that Instagram will remain largely unchanged when Facebook acquires the photo-sharing service for $1 billion.
“We need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram's strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook,” Zuckerberg said in a statement published on his Facebook page on Monday. The Instagram deal is Facebook's biggest acquisition to date.
Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom echoed Zuckerberg, saying “the Instagram app will be the same one you know and love.” Zuckerberg made it clear that Instagram will continue to operate as an independent company, rather than dissolving into the social network. That's a departure from Facebook's usual method of acquiring start-ups - FriendFeed, Hot Potato, Gowalla - and then shutting down those services.
While I buy Zuckerburg's and Systrom's assurance that Instagram as users know it will stick around (at least for the time being), I'm more wary of the effect Facebook's acquisition will have on what has typically been a more intimate photo-sharing experience. Instagram offers the option of publishing photos to sites like Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, but overall it is a tighter network, allowing users to keep their photos off the open web and follow a group separate from those other social platforms. Contrast that with another social platform like music-streaming service Spotify, which doesn't allow you to register without a Facebook account and automatically publishes your listening history to Facebook unless you opt out of that feature.
Looking at photos on Instagram, which lets users snap a photo on a smartphone and then transform it with a variety of filters, has always felt to me like flipping through a friend's photo album - remember the kind with plastic-bound pages? On the other side of the coin, you have Facebook's photo viewer, which incorporates ads beside every image. It's difficult to imagine a Facebook-owned Instagram remaining free of similar disruptions.
Facebook has come under fire for its privacy policies. Along those same lines, I've heard more of my friends complaining recently about the giant social network, voicing their frustration over how to keep certain profile features private, and how to filter out unwelcome information. It's one of the paradoxes of social media: while we enjoy the access to larger networks that sites like Facebook offer, we also want closer connections to spring from those platforms.
As today's acquisition shows, social media is in constant flux. Let's hope more companies make it easier for users to form small, tight-knit circles within the sprawling social universe.