The Instagram and Facebook story

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 12:23 PM | comments: 0

I am endlessly amused at the reaction to Facebook's billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram. I mean, it really makes me smile. I'll get to the reasons in a moment.

But first, let's offer a virtual high-five to the founders, who in two years went from zero dollars to a billion. I don't care how much you enjoy technology or starting companies or whatever... when you get that kind of pay-out, you buy a nice place on an island somewhere and take a nice long vacation. And build a roller coaster in your back yard, obviously. Good for those dudes. They beat the odds and ran with something simple that became huge. That's so awesome.

Now, about my giggles. The reaction is funny first because of what the service actually is. It's a super simple way to share photos, which is great. It's also a way to take those photos and apply glorified Photoshop filters to them, mostly to make them look like crappy old film photos that have been sitting in a shoebox in the back of your closet for a decade. The sweetest irony of this, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, is that a billion bucks could have bought the bankrupt Kodak several times over, a company that hung on to making crappy film photos for too long.

Then there's the reaction of the hipsters who liked Instagram because it wasn't Facebook, and it was so cool make photos look all vintagey with extra grain and dramatically reduced dynamic range. The irony of hipsters trying to be ironic is that, again, poorly exposed film did this before most of them were born. If hipster cred is measured in part by obscurity or uniqueness, then using a service with a bazillion users hardly adds to your cred.

But perhaps the most amusing thing to me is that the backlash is a pattern that has repeated countless times on the Internet. It just happens to be at a stunning scale this time. Someone puts something on the Internet that people like, a community builds around it, and eventually, the time comes when it has to either make money or disappear. I saw it happen early on with CoasterBuzz ("You mean you're making money? That's practically immoral!"), I saw it happen when ads creeped into search and it will happen again elsewhere (just wait until it happens with Tumblr).

That's the funny thing about the Internet that has been different from businesses in the physical world. Something can be created and be wonderful and feel like a great new thing for people, but someone, somewhere, has to pay for it eventually. That's just how it is. The Internet has empowered feelings of freedom and free stuff, but everything has a cost. Few things can enjoy the kind of financial arrangement of Wikipedia.

Getting back to Instagram, I think the silliest part of all of this alarm is that Zuckerberg said outright that they have no desire to mess with it, and want it to remain independent. All of the alarm and fear and stupid black photos are entirely premature. I suspect that nothing will change for the foreseeable future.

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