Instagram: Why Digital Darwinism is a Good Thing

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Manchester’s Northern Quarter is up in arms.  The denizens of Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston are revolting.  This Easter weekend, hipsters nationwide are NOT happy bunnies.  Why?  Because Instagram, darling of artisans, students and cool people worldwide, has been snapped up by Facebook for $1 billion.

Despite Instagram having a userbase of over 30 MILLION users (thanks in no small part to the recent release of the Android version), the app is apparently a sacred space for ‘cool’ people to attain subcultural capital and rebel against large, corporate digital behemoths vying for our digital data.  The app allows users to take photos, apply filters and be truly unique (as another 29,999,999 people).

While I’m clearly being facetious, the backlash against Instagram’s ‘sell-out’ has been surprising.  People have been using and enjoying this FREE service for a year and a half, whilst 13 guys in Silicone Valley have worked hard to support and develop a great little app for everyone to use.  For free.  Yet their payday has come, their hard work has been rewarded, yet suddenly they are the bad guys.  Why?

YouTube was started by two chaps in their garage – you can’t get much more raw, authentic and anti-corporate than that.  However, Google acquired YouTube and over the past few years, the service has developed into a mainstay of popular culture, so much so that we now have TELEVISION shows ABOUT YouTube clips (take a bow ‘Rude Tube’).

However, people were against YouTube being taken over at the time.  They claimed, just as they are doing with Instagram, that ‘they like things how they are and don’t want the service they know and love to be changed’.  Imagine if YouTube hadn’t evolved?  Imagine if smartphones, nay, MOBILE phones hadn’t evolved – we wouldn’t enjoy half the convenience, information and communications benefits that we do now.  It is with noted irony that people moaning about Instagram selling out to a ‘corporate’ are doing so on their Apple / Google mobile devices.  Hmm.

So while I argue that progress is a good and necessary thing in the digital space, what exactly is this progress?  What does this purchase of Instagram represent?

Without a shadow of doubt, Facebook is making a shrewd acquisition into the mobile space.  Instagram is the world’s largest mobile-based social network – fact.  Mobile is an exploding area in digital communications, simply because smartphone capabilities are evolving at such a rate – and this means this is a huge area of focus for businesses, brands and services.

Up to know, Facebook has enjoyed phenomenal usage on mobile devices thanks to its iPhone and Android app.  However, Facebook has also admitted that it has struggled to monetise and capitalise on this huge surge in mobile usage.  The purchase of Instagram may not immediately address this, since the app makes no money (at present) – however, it is clear that Facebook is moving with the times – and that means really moving into the mobile space.

So, there’s no doubt that Facebook will look to develop Instagram.  This is inevitable.  However, contrary to hipsters’ fears, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  If something is good, people will flock to use it in large numbers.  Large numbers = significant interest from big companies.  It’s a natural digital evolution.  But this does not mean that the service, or indeed, the CONTENT, need change.

After all, just think where we’d be if YouTube was still stuck in a garage.  Or for that matter, if Steve Jobs had not decided to make an Apple phone.

Progress is a good thing – especially in the digital sector.

(I may not be a hipster, but I do have a beard and work in digital – which means I love Instagram too.  The shot at the top of this post was taken by me, using pre-Facebook Instagram, this Monday.)

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