Instagram Outrage

Today’s xkcd strip mirrors my feelings exactly about the recent Instagram outrage. Well, to be honest with you, I had some initial outrage too initially (though I do not really use the product), but just a little bit of thought changed my mind.

For people who do not know about Instagram and the recent outrage (first, please come out of the rock that you are hiding under – the world did not end!), let me summarize the issue and my two cents.

Instagram is a free iOS app/service which lets you take photographs using your iOS devices, apply some cool filters, and then stores these pictures for you. Filters are image processing effects – such as sephia, b/w, and more fancy ones — that you apply on your otherwise dull monotonous pictures of your flowers and feet, to make them pretty),It also, as is mandatory for any app these days, lets you share these pictures using twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites.

More recently they got acquired by facebook. These guys have not been making money for a while now. I guess Zuck was probably miffed and asked the Instagram team to ‘start thinking about $$’. Last week, these guys changed their terms and conditions, that starts to make them thinking about $$. They had some ambiguous terms which people misinterpreted as ‘Instagram will use your pictures in advertising, without having to tell you’. I am not quite sure about the legalese, but this caused quite a bit of bad PR. Instagram responded very quickly that they would change their T&C etc.

Ok, now my opinions/reactions.

My first disappointment was that, “how could a company in the social networking space – which is super focussed on consumers – do such a faux paus as to have an ambiguous T&C in the first place?”. The new era of apps and social networking is so much consumer faced that, consumer is not just God, but probably more than that. They have made and broken companies.

On later hindsight, I am realizing two things:

In this era of social networking and ecommerce companies, the companies that do survive are the companies who fail fast, and recover fast. The fact that Instagram responded shows promise. They HAD to take some risks to do some internal stuff to start making money. And to survive they had better make money. Having been a part of an ecommerce company for about a year, I can vouch for the fail fast-recover fast method. It is the only thing that works.

Secondly, why are consumers suddenly so worried about T&Cs. Had anyone ever read the T&C when they signed up for Instagram? GMail? Or for that matter, any online service?

Next->Next->Continue->PageDown->PageDown->Finish->Congrats, you are done.

All my sign-ins have been like the above. The whole bad PR is because of another new phenomenon – Large Herds. The Herd mentality has been studied for quite a while now, and it is typical human behavior. But with the advent of large scale social networking, the herd sizes are magnified, several fold. So if TechCrunch says something, or John Gruber says something, or if @AtulChitnis retweets something, it becomes h.u.g.e.

So in conclusion, what happened to Instagram is not something alarming at all. This is what is going to be the future of QA. This is how product testing is going to happen. What used to happen within a enterprise software company when a Priority-Zero (P0) customer bug came in, just happened in a social networking company. Do not get alarmed, and get back to your work. If you have faith in that company (as in, you have an account with them), they will fix the bug. If not, this will ensure a new start-up founds itself with that limitation removed and an easy move-your-data-easily-to-me process.

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