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Business Performance Customer Experience Social Media

Smile! You’re Feeding the Facebook Machine

Yesterday Instagram revealed that  as of January 16th, it will have the perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification.

This disturbs me.

I’ve been a fan of Instagram for a long time, though not a prolific user. I admire their journey, how they built this incredibly popular tool and network with just a handful of staff.

The day they sold to Facebook, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the founders got their big payday, the pay-off for all the hard work they put in. Can’t blame them. On the other hand, I had a sense of dread that Facebook were about to royally fuck it up.

Guess what? I think that just happened.

I’m a believer that a company can’t create a community. You can *faciliate* a community, by giving common-minded individuals a platform and the tools to connect. But you can’t force them to talk to each other; you can’t make them share their personal stuff.

For every Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, there are thousands of empty social network platforms that just didn’t take off or thrive (jury is still out on G+). All those successful platforms worked only in part due to the technology and tools. It’s the users that have made them successful.

Today, I think the community of Instagram users are feeling a little betrayed. Today is the day they realised they are in fact the product.

If you’re not paying for the service you are the product. These businesses have to make money eventually and the data you give up as a user is like crude oil to these new business giants.

Facebook paid $1Bn for Instagram and now they want some return. It had to come evenutally.

It’ll be interesting to see if any details emerge regarding the number of accounts deleted due to this change. I’m already seeing tweets and posts from individuals to that effect. I for one haven’t decided what I’m going to do with mine yet.

However, I suspect it won’t kill the network. Indifference is likely to be the common response (or lack thereof). The masses are generally unaware of what is happening to their data – they don’t see their holiday photos as valuable data – so I can’t see them leaving in droves.

There will be some media outcry, blogs will be written, indignant tweets will posted, then it will fade away. And the oil will continue to flow through the pipeline.

UPDATE: 9:20 am 19th Dec. 2012 – Last night Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom issued this statement to clarify the situation. He says there is much confusion in the media and it is easy to mis-interpret legal language. He acknowledges they need to behave like a revenue producing, sustainable business, so changes will be necessary. This was the section that drew my eye ‘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.’

So there you have it. It’s not their intention to sell your photos. But then, they didn’t exactly come out and say they would not sell your photos. If their paymasters at Facebook say they have to do it, then I guess…

So we’re none the wiser really. Guess we have to wait and see how the language changes and then make a decision before the 16th January.