In January 2011, Instagram had just one million users on their app, which seems like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to where they’re at now. By the end of 2011, they were at 15 million users, and now just four months later, that number has doubled to 30 million. The five million android users they’ve picked up in the last week have certainly helped. So then… Facebook buys Instagram.
Facebook on the other hand has a lot more users than that (roughly 850 million), and it’s safe to say that most Instagram users own a Facebook page too, because they’re likely into the whole photo-sharing side of things. So why do they need the users? Well, it’s an easy way to expand Facebook domination, but the reality is that that’s not why they’re buying it. They already have 425 million monthly active mobile users, and an app on every platform.
Photo sharing on Facebook has always been pretty rubbish, because it’s a sideline to what Facebook is about. It’s not the main feature. Facebook also has the majority of photos private to people who aren’t friends with the user, whereas with Instagram, following strangers is encouraged. Instagram is really a cross between Facebook and Twitter, for photography.
I’m not going to get into the business side of thing here, and talk about how massively overvalued both of the companies are (Facebook is valued at 100 billion, but made just 1 billion in profit last year, whereas Instagram doesn’t seem to have any real source of income). Instead, I’m going to talk about what this is going to do to photography, and photo sharing.
What are Facebook going to do with it?
Well Mark said in his statement that Facebook plans to keep the service as it is, saying that the company is “committed to building and growing Instagram independently.” He also stresses that Instagram’s growth is important to Facebook, and that the service will continue having the ability to post to other services (such as Tumblr) and to not post photos to Facebook.
Instagram users don’t seem to be exactly thrilled with the sale to Facebook, worried that Facebook are going to make big changes, or worse, shut it down. And they have good reason to fear this. Facebook shut down Gowalla, which is similar to foursquare, last month, just three months after buying it. Why? Because it rivalled Facebook features, specifically the Facebook check-in feature.
I don’t see Facebook changing their privacy permissions anytime soon (that never goes down too well), so chances are that we will be seeing plenty more of Instagram, as they’re likely to keep it alive. Especially after all this press.
With 30 million users, and a billion dollar valuation, Facebook just paid $33.30 per user, which is a lot of money to make back from an app that doesn’t make any money, so expect to see some adverts cropping up in the future.
Why spend so much money? Well if you put aside all the other aspects such as growing Facebook, and monetizing the app, you could see this as a defensive move from Facebook. They’re stopping someone like Google from doing it before them, and coming along and dominating the market.
From the looks of things, Instagram is here to stay. Unfortunately.
What will this do to Photography?
I’ve never really been a fan of Instagram, and not because I don’t think mobile phone photography is a good thing, but because of the way it changes how we use photography. I’ve spoken about this before, and just two days ago, a friend of mine raised an interesting point against me, here’s the conversation.
HIS STATUS – Some great photos on instagram today. This makes happy. Last day in NYC.
ME – There is nothing good about Instagram.
HIM – Do you hate it because it’s a cheap excuse for photography?
ME – Yes I do. It’s best to not get me started. I’ve blogged about it and everything.
HIM – But it makes shitty photos look so nice. Not all of us have the means to be good at photography.
ME – That’s an interesting way of looking at it, I guess running a photography website I look at it the other way. The bad still outweighs the good.
HIM – Well before I didn’t really care for taking pictures, now I feel more inclined too and quite enjoy it. There also some really good people on that app and it’s been a great way to see new things.
ME – Stop making valid points, I want to still dislike it. I just think it gives people a bad idea about what good photography is, and since there’s no accounting for taste, people never learn how to become better at photography.
HIM – Ok but just one more valid point. What if Instagram leads people to develop a passion and better understanding of what photography is all about?
The main point
ME – It encourages people to focus more on post processing than composition, which is not what photography is about. Then you have the social aspect, where people will happily like a photo of a cute cat, or a good looking person, which has nothing to do with photography, which confuses the user about what good photography is. Combine that with the encouragement to post photos everyday, and people are taking a lot of bad photos, and editing them as an excuse to not try harder with better photography. I’m sure it will lead some people to take better photos with another camera, but I think it focuses too much on encouraging post production. And good photos need no post production.
^^The main point^^
ME – /rant
HIM – Good rant. 10/10 mate!
As you can see, I’m not really on the side of Instagram, and I feel like I have some pretty valid reasons. I’m sure the majority of Instagram fans won’t make it this far down the page (most people rarely d0), but here’s how I like to sum it up.
Photography is becoming more readily available, and I’m all for this. Flood the market with new photographers, and you’re going to find a lot of rubbish, but for all the rubbish that comes along, there’s always going to some very good photographer. These good photographers will push up the overall standard of photography, which is never a bad thing. Young photographers, such as the ones listed here, are giving older professionals a run for their money as they’re new to the industry, with fresh ideas. The problem is that the majority of people who get into photography through Instagram are going to be largely miss-informed.
Good photography is subjective, but there are certain things it is not. It doesn’t rely on countless filters lavishly applied in a photography app on your iPhone. It’s not photos of cleavage that gets lots of likes and comments. It has nothing to do with the post production. Good photography doesn’t require post production, it will stand up on its own (that’s not to say that you shouldn’t do it though).
Using Instagram is not going to challenge you as a photographer. If you can take a photo of something ugly and make it look interesting, then this is much more challenging than taking a photo of a cute cat. If you can learn how to use composition to influence the viewer, then this is far more useful than something like spot color, which is obvious and tasteless.
If you really want to learn photography, then pick up a camera with a manual mode, and get started on your own. The more difficult you make it for yourself, the faster you will learn. I’ve got plenty of content on here to get you started. Read this, then this, and then this.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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