Facebook has bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and shares, a move that has dismayed and intrigued fans of the popular photo-sharing app in equal measure. Widely considered to appeal to the elusive ‘hipster’ market, Instagram allows users to give their snaps vintage-style effects and share the results on a variety of social networking platforms. The Facebook acquisition has raised fears that the app will lose its independence as well as its reputation as the go-to service for hip smartphone users. According to Mashable, some Instagram users are already rethinking their loyalty.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg insisted that the social networking giant has no intention of swallowing up Instagram: “We’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently… We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook,” Zuckerberg wrote on – where else? – his Facebook page.
The technorati were also stunned at the scale of the acquisition. While the two-year-old start-up has already racked up over 30 million downloads, the company has yet to post a profit.
Selling out? Instagram is built on its hipster appeal, and the news of the Facebook acquisition risks damaging the brand, wrote Alexandra Petri on a Washington Post blog: “Facebook might just as well have posted a giant banner screaming, ‘INSTAGRAM JUST SOLD OUT AND WENT MAINSTREAM’.” Hipsters as a breed are wary of anything that is already well-known – and Facebook is the embodiment of mainstream: “You are supposed to be that effortlessly cool person who finds things before they Become Known And Ruined. This ruins all that.”
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom moved to reassure users on the company blog in the wake of the Facebook acquisition: “The Instagram app will still be the same one you know and love. You’ll still have all the same people you follow and that follow you.You’ll still be able to share to other social network.”
The end of Instagram? Despite Zuckerberg’s insistence that Instagram’s independence will be preserved, “Facebook has a history of buying web start-ups only to end their independent existence and integrate their functions with those of the parent company,” pointed out Hugo Gye at The Daily Mail. “Instagram is particularly popular among smartphone users, an area where Facebook has had some teething troubles. So ending the threat from the upstart start-up might be the easiest way for Facebook to reassert its primacy.”
TechCrunch provided a handy history of Instagram, from tiny start-up to a company Facebook considered worth paying a billion dollars for.
Fears for photos. “When the news first broke that Facebook had acquired Instagram, my immediate instinct was dread,” wailed Christina Warren at Mashable. Warren wrote that she was thrilled for the Instagram team, but was concerned for the future of her favourite photo-sharing app; she called on Facebook to follow a few simple rules in order to ensure Instagram stays awesome. “Don’t go into video. Don’t go into Panoramas. Don’t go into desktop uploads. Stay focused on pictures,” urged Warren, arguing that the social networking giant should keep the app mobile only and make sure the original Instagram team stays on board.
But why? Molly Wood questioned the motives behind Facebook’s acquisition at CNET: “I hope Facebook isn’t getting distracted by hipster buzz or the photo-sharing bubble.” Wood dismissed the popular theory that Facebook is keen to increase its engagement with smartphone users: “Facebook doesn’t have a problem with acquiring mobile users: it has a problem making money off them… So, then, why buy a primarily mobile app that doesn’t currently, as far as we know, make any money?”
Path to China? Facebook has been blocked for years in China, but Instagram is already in use in the country, pointed out Lorretta Chao on a Wall Street Journal blog. The photo-sharing app may therefore give Facebook a “foot in the door” in the Chinese market, Chao suggested. Then again, the acquisition may in fact harm Instagram’s progress in China: “A deal with Facebook could cut access to Instagram, for example if the companies force users to log in to Instagram through Facebook.”
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