If there is one social media platform that’s hard to hate, it’s Instagram. Its focus on images, smartphone-friendly design and ability to tune out the toxicity and scandal that tend to be associated with platforms like Facebook and Twitter are what make it that much more appealing. And despite being acquired early in its product cycle by a larger, more systematically run company, it’s largely retained its character. It’s still a happy place where you log in, look at some pictures of kitty cats, and get on with your life.
Now, if we turn to the business aspects of Instagram, it’s quite the story. Established in 2010, Instagram was acquired by Facebook just about two years later for $1 billion, a princely sum at the time even for a high-potential young start-up.
In the six years since then, Instagram has gone from that $1 billion valuation to being estimated to be worth over $100 billion today, which puts it at the top of any ranking list of acquisitions by any company ever. And it’s done all of this while largely retaining its character. Although new products such as monetization, stories and IGTV have rolled out, the core product is still the image feed. But now, as has become a disturbingly frequent trend, the founders of Instagram Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have announced that they are quitting the company to go do something new.
“We’re planning on leaving Instagram to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do”, said Systrom in a press statement. It’s also a bit of a shot at Facebook, indicating that the co-founders believe that Instagram under Facebook’s leadership is no longer inspiring or what the world needs. And although I still maintain that Instagram is better than any other social media platform in many ways, there is the view point that it’s essentially serving the same purposes, but in a brighter and more optimistic way.
it's basically a social network for hot people to win branding opportunities and the rest of us to pretend our experiences are unique
— Joe Bernstein (@Bernstein) September 25, 2018
Facebook has acquired a lot of companies over the years, but three of these stand out because of the sheer volumes and potential that they drive: Instagram, Oculus and WhatsApp. With this latest news from Instagram, the founders of all three of these acquisitions have now left their roles at Facebook. Whats more, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton has gone as far as to publicly criticize Facebook since his exit, indicating that all of these founders clearly do not agree with parent company Facebook at its chief Mark Zuckerberg on how things should be done.
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Facebook has aligned all of these acquisitions towards its larger goal of increased profits for the parent company, and changed the way these companies operate as a result. The biggest indication of this is in WhatsApp’s plans to increasingly become a platform for businesses to connect with users, which is significantly different from the company’s original goals to be a personal communication tool. Instagram itself has gone this way, with an increase in ads, sponsorship, involvement of businesses and a general dilution of its original goals and values.
Additionally, with Facebook coming under constant fire for its role in major scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica one, public sentiment is riding against the social media giant. For a couple of entrepreneurs who have made a retirement-worthy payday already, it’s perhaps the ideal time to cut-off from a company that is being increasingly viewed as favoring profits over values.
What it could finally mean is that the barriers to change have finally been removed, allowing Instagram to transition from being a happy, image-friendly social media platform to becoming yet another way for Facebook to make money. And that could therefore be the end of Instagram as we know it, further turning our social media culture into another way to make us buy things we don’t need.