“I’ve always felt like Instagram was a safe zone for creativity and loved its autonomy from the Facebook Machine,” said Seattle Instagramer Rachel Sawyer, who posts as @iwife on the network. “As it becomes more and more mainstream, you’ll find me there less and less.”
The acquisition is a stunning exit for the small team that started Instagram just 552 days ago, and marks Facebook’s largest and probably most interesting buy to date.
But while the biz/tech world talks valuations, rich investors, and what the deal reveals about the inner workings of the world’s largest social network (read John’s and Sasha’s analysis here on GeekWire), the people who have done the most to make Instagram awesome — its community of mobile photo geeks — are getting anxious. They worry that a beloved space that nourished and reflected their identity is about to wither and die.
And should they leave before it does?
“Instagram is more than an app for me; it’s a community of creative, supportive, and positive people,” said local Instagramer Dan Cole (@dankhole), who posts pics to more than 16,000 Instagram followers. “This is what I fear losing.”
Welcome to gentrification, social media style.
Posts on how users can download and delete their Instagram profiles have surged since the announcement. And despite assurances from Facebook and Instagram that much of the app’s services will stay intact, forty percent of respondents on a Next Web poll said they’d stop using the app once Facebook takes over.
Threats of digital diaspora are greatly exaggerated. But in this case, worry over the new landlord is not.
“One of my fears is that Instagram becomes mediocre in terms of what happens with the mobile photography scene, that we lose our identity as mobile photographers, and lose the idea of a safe space,” said Brad Puet (@bradpuet), cofounder of We Are Juxt, a Seattle-based global community of mobile photographers and artists that hosts gallery shows, mobile arts workshops, and partners with community groups on photo walks around the Puget Sound.
“I think most folks are going to stay, though I have seen many known ‘veterans’ try the other photo sharing apps since the addition of Android users and now the IG sale,” Puet said. “This acquisition will increase the visibility of the other photo sharing apps. Whether those apps are able to cultivate and foster the community that Instagram has, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Puet said he called an Instagram employee Monday morning to congratulate the team. Then he called a contact at EyeEm, one app he’s seen rise as something of an Instagram alternative, to congratulate them on what he expects will be a migration of mobile photographers to other networks.
The budding neighborhoods next door, if you will.
“Facebook says they don’t want to change Instagram, but I am concerned that the small startup mentality that it was built on will be replaced by Facebook thinking,” said Seattle designer and popular Instagramer Nadja Haldimann, who posts to IG — as it’s known among fans — as @thenadj.
What makes Instagram so amazing, Haldimann said, is that its users run the show, seeding strong sub-communities with little more than a hashtag and a challenge.
“I am concerned that Facebook will try to drive some of this rather than let the community drive it,” she said.
A big concern for many IGers is how Facebook will handle their data, particularly their pics.
Like many, Seattle Instagramer Ryan Healy said his main fear is what it would mean if Facebook took copyright ownership of his Instagram photos. Healy deactivated his Facebook account last month when it felt like more worry over privacy and copyright than it was worth.
“I have always thought of Instagram as the Twitter of photo sharing. It’s a very simple concept that was beautifully executed. Unlike Facebook, I had few privacy concerns. It felt somewhat like a closed network, even if it wasn’t.”
And that’s what behind so much of Instagram users’ reaction to the deal: not how it will work, which isn’t yet clear, but how it already feels.
When Google announced in January that it would shutter popular photo editing site Picnik, which it acquired in 2010, fans were not pleased. The site is set to close later this month.
“The reality is that not unlike other kinds of consumer products, people/users focus much more on how their apps & services make them feel more than any rote enumeration of feature sets or mere utility,” Picnik co-founder Jonathan Sposato wrote via email. “Picnik often got marriage proposals — ‘If you were a guy, I would marry you!’ — and was clearly a beloved product. Obviously Instagram is another, and their fan base is going to be highly threatened by any coming changes.” [Editor's note: Seattle entrepreneur and angel investor Jonathan Sposato is chairman of GeekWire].
Facebook did away with strong native communities on FriendFeed and Gowalla when it acquired the networks. But Instagram is different. Maybe, as Christina Warren of Mashable wrote, Facebook could do for Instagram what Google, after a few stumbles, did for YouTube — give it a boost.
Both Puet and Bridgette S., administrator of the active Instagramers Seattle (@IGers_seattle) group, hopes the Facebook deal will get more people hooked on what the app inspired its users to love about mobile photography.
Instagram users can sit back and see what happens. Or, like neighborhood activists defending a place they love, they can get into the fight.
She plans to.
“You have to go with the flow, and hope we can just protect it,” she said. “Keep it tight, keep it intact, keep it strong.”
Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist in startups and media and a digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.