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Quit whining, Instagram are a business

The response to the news that Instagram have changed their integration with Twitter has me puzzled… really puzzled. I’m not puzzled as to why Instagram chose to do so, as they see it, they want more control of the data and user experience for themselves. I’m also not puzzled that Twitter have done similar things in the past, for example to LinkedIn. No, what really puzzles me has been the response from the tech community… the community normally so enamoured with the idea of being an entrepreneur and making a truckload of cash (and possibly saving the world in the process).

From articles like this though, they’ve forgotten that they’re dealing with business and assume they’re dealing with charities instead. As I see it there’s a lack of understanding about how businesses make money, or more fundamentally that businesses need to make money at all. Let’s not forget, neither Instagram nor Twitter charge users for the services they supply – of course these companies derive economic benefit from access to customers’ data, but it’s not quite the same – so no one can claim to have been “screwed” out of anything. Instagram are acting in what they see as their best interests. If a business decides it’s in their best interest to close off or change aspects of their service, they’re entitled to do so. The flip side to this is that customers are entitled to act in their best interests – if they’re unhappy with the business they can stop using it or switch to a competitor. If you don’t want to stop using it, then stop complaining about something you get for free.

Part of the argument (the “breaking the spirit of Web 2.0” part) is that these businesses may build their systems on the back of open platforms. As Instagram has admitted, at the start they didn’t have a presence and frictionless integration with Twitter made sense – in marketing we do this all the time to help build awareness, it’s called “sampling”. But these things can’t last if the company wants to make money as they must. The same thing can be said of everything Facebook has been doing since it started.

So this is the part that has me genuinely puzzled. The tech community is suffused with entrepreneurship and lauds entrepreneurs. It tracks their rises and falls, it worships the most successful of them, and it advocates for them to anyone who will listen. Yet, from the evidence on display over the last day or so, the tech community has forgotten the most basic precept of businesses is to make money, and that business/customer relationship is a two way street.
Personally I think Instagram are making a mistake, but then again, that’s their choice. As a customer I have a choice in this too. I won’t be exercising that at this point. But if people feel strongly enough about it, they should stop whining and exercise that choice for themselves.

>>> Update: What on earth were Instagram thinking? They’ve properly screwed their users now. Appropriating user data is one thing, but unilaterally claiming ownership is on a completely different level! Photography like any intellectual property has economic value (I’m guessing they know this bit). This doesn’t just mildly annoy users, it’s theft. It’s like iTunes unilaterally deciding that all the content on iTunes is now owned by Apple.

Worse still, Instagram turned a what could have been a really useful revenue stream – sale of user content from a potential win (if the rights were shared with users) to a massive own goal.

User data is pretty abstract, you wouldn’t expect much of a backlash, this is something a bit different.

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