Why eulogies for Instagram may be premature

Kim Kardashian is the most followed person on Instagram.  In one of life’s wonderful ironies, K.K. is threatening to leave Instagram unless they rewrite new terms of use that stipulate that Instagram can use user photographs for advertisements.*  The irony being that nearly everyone from pornographic video distributors to weight loss supplement manufacturers to shoe marketers are making money from pictures of Kim Kardashian.

The fallout from Instagram’s change in their terms of use has been well-chronicled, the latest coming from measuring firm AppData claiming that Instagram may have lost 25% of their active users after revealing their new rules.  But I have a contrary opinion about the viability of Instagram.  I think they’re alright and I’ll tell you why:

Who do you say I am?

Two of the most telling write-ups about Instagram came from USA Today and the New York Times.  In each piece they offer alternatives to Instagram.  USA Today recommends: Camera Awesome, Flickr, Pixlr-o-matic, StreamZoo, and Twitter.  The NYT recommends: Twitter, (Google’s) Snapseed and Hipstamatic.

The problem with these lists are that all of the recommendations are for photo filtering apps (with the exception of Twitter).  Did Facebook pay $1 billion dollars for a photo filtering app?  Nope.  I not sure that people realize that Instagram is a full-fledged social network.

Not only is Instagram a full-fledged social network, but they are a 100 million user strong social network whose popularity is only rivaled by Tumblr with teens and young adults.  If you ever wondered why Facebook didn’t just integrate Instagram into their platform, it is because Facebook’s domestic user base is slowing, growing only in older demographics.

Instagram is popular in demographic populations that aren’t enamored with Facebook and who may never be.

Why Instagram is fine (for the time being)

So, as it turns out the 25% drop was only of Instagram users whose account is tied to their Facebook account.  This is significant since anyone with a Facebook account is likely spending most of their social time there, but also because the most valuable Instagram users are the ones who don’t integrate to Facebook.

Chris Taylor of Mashable refuted the data pretty thoroughly, though at times it seemed he was overcorrecting.  It’s foolish to think that a public relations fiasco like this wouldn’t affect usage somewhat.  But judging from precedents set by Google, Gmail,  Facebook, Twitter and a host of other services – exploitative terms of service don’t dissuade users from using a service that they like.

In my opinion, Instagram is much more likely to lose users if Facebook opens up the Instagram interface to stick-it-anywhere-you-like advertising as it has with its own platform.  I don’t think Instagram users are going to abandon the platform if Instagram uses their pictures to advertising to their friends, it’s a practice that Facebook already utilizes to little fanfare.

What do you think?  Will a good part of 100 million abandon ship in Instagram?  Will 3.5 million people leave Instagram to check out Kim Kardashian’s filtered snapshots on Flickr?

*they actually say: ” By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.”  Po-tay-to / po-tah-to.

Photo Credit


Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://twitter.com/cwebdesign cweb

    But Facebook can’t sell your photos, whereas Instagram can, using its new TOS. So it’s not the same thing.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for your comment. I disagree with the premise that Instagram would sell photos on the open market. There is no market to monetize snapshots when they are freely available elsewhere. It makes no financial sense to Instagram and they explicitly said that the verbiage in the terms of use was not intended to imply that. Also, for all intents and purposes Instagram is Facebook, and Facebook’s Data Use Policy basically states the same thing in more vague language.


      There isn’t a market for Instagram to become Getty, and Getty isn’t in the strongest financial position either. So selling photographs isn’t a logical endstate from the Terms of Use.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • MrTonyDowling

    great piece Jim – I had suspected the initial hoopla would be over reaction, thanks for the balanced view

  • ericjhenderson nachtwanderer

    amid the chatter, this is a welcome take. focusing on technical superiority always a losing prop when confronted with folks who know how to amass “franchises of cool” – too many examples… going back the sleight of hand that started us parsing macs and pcs, both personal computers, into macs and pcs.