“Don’t mess with Instagram” was the simple understanding of the contract between Facebook and Instagram when the latter was acquired by Facebook for 1 billion dollars in 2012.
The most talked about news in tech the last few days has been Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom stepping down from their positions at the company which they built, and had sold to social media behemoth Facebook. Even ordinary Instagram users were able to notice changes that occurred on the platform since the acquisition. There’s been a huge increase in advertisements, the rise of the “stories” feature to compete with Snapchat, and obviously a feature that allows for, and encourages connecting one’s Instagram account to their Facebook account to find friends to follow. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Deepa Seetharaman, Instagram’s co-founders saw many such tweaks to their application as means to “promote Facebook’s growth, at Instagram’s expense.” Many top executives at Instagram were demoted, and just last week, Instagram’s marketing team was subsumed into Facebook’s.
This just seems like bad timing, and definitely unbeneficial to Facebook, which already is facing tremendous legal troubles and regulatory issues around the world. Instagram has been “a major bright spot” for Facebook. But it appeared, especially recently, that Instagram may have been doing better.
Most recently, Zuckerberg seemed opposed to the launch of IGTV, which Zuckerberg worried might outshine Facebook Watch, a similar long-form video hub. This fight between Zuckerberg and Systrom apparently really took its toll, and in recent months executives have been preparing for the possiblity of Systrom and Krieger’s departure.
While this departure has been highly publicized, there have been several other recent instances of founders of companies acquired by Facebook stepping down. This past April, Jan Koum, co-founder and CEO of messaging service Whatsapp, which too had been acquired by Facebook, left the company amid data privacy issues. Koum and fellow co-founder Acton (who had left the company months earlier) were extremely sensitive about the topic of privacy, having Whatspp completely encrypted by April 2016, even rejected calls from government agencies to “build back doors into its product for counterterrorism and law enforcement measures,” according to a The Verge article by Nick Statt. Facebook has seen major legal troubles mostly with the concern of privacy, especially with their relationship with Cambridge Analytica, and Zuckerberg’s recent testimony in front of congress.
I personally think Facebook’s leadership is failing to give the credit and autonomy to the founders of the companies they acquire. Of course, Facebook has acquired said companies and is able to control a lot of their business and functions, but it seems in the best interest of both Facebook and companies like Facebook and Whatsapp that the wishes of those who created the platforms are respected, and heard.
“Don’t mess with Instagram” was the simple understanding that, according to Facebook executives, operated the relationship between Facebook and Instagram. Clearly Facebook did just the opposite – messed with Instagram, and supposedly, Whatsapp. I’m curious to see how the absence of Krieger and Systrom will impact Facebook and Instagram, as well as how Facebook will respond to the news, mostly which sheds a negative light on Zuckerberg for the founders’ departure.
Upon looking for such answers, I stumbled upon a lot of articles with similar headlines somewhere along the lines of “The End of Instagram as we Know it is Here.” But why? Hasn’t Zuckerberg been in charge for the last 6 years anyway? Firstly, according to an article with this title by Casey Newton, this departure is really significant because it contrasts the usual departures of high-level executives at Facebook, and big companies in general, in which they are organized to minimize drama, with replacements ready immediately, and status updates as well as “well wishes” from other executives such as Zuckerberg and Sandberg flooding the internet. This was not the case for the departure of Instagram co-founders. No one really knew what was going on, Facebook spokespeople included, until the New York Times was the first to announce the departure.
In addition, Kieger and Systrom, although working under Facebook, had an unusually great deal of control, and played a tremendous role in day-to-day product decisions. They’ve worked hard to try to maintain the culture and vision that Instagram stood for since its creation almost a decade ago in San Francisco, and amassed almost instant popularity, gaining a million users in just 2 months of being on the App Store. As mentioned earlier, their departure leaves many projects in flux, such as IGTV, a direct creation of Systrom, as well as Instagram Direct, a new standalone messaging application that would replace the current Instagram inbox feature.
In order for the popular application to continue to grow at such a rapid rate, Instagram needed to have autonomy and full attention, not to be considered one of many “family applications” of Facebook, as Zuckerberg apparently considers it. The next step is to see who will be appointed to replace the creators of Instagram, and how its prominence will be consequently affected.