MediaFile

Instagram unleashes a thousand words

Instagram surely didn’t expect to stir up a hornet’s nest with changes to its terms of service announced two days ago. But it was met with an Internet flash mob: high-profile tech writers who had adored the service abandoning it and thousands of angry words from the rest of us about what Instagram’s pictures are really worth.

The issue was joined with these 115 words:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

The next day, Instagram had a bit more to say:

Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

It’s a fast-moving story — something may have already changed by the time you read this. The changes don’t take effect until Jan. 16, and they are not retroactive: Everything you share on Instagram until that date is exempt from the new policy. But the terms as originally described — and not yet retracted — were pretty expansive. They spoke of revenue and ads that may not look like ads. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what that might allow the company to do. Saying you don’t “intend” to do anything means nothing. It is what politicians say when they intend to do the opposite but can’t yet go public.

Instagram deserves to make money. It should be lauded for thinking outside the box. And nobody has figured out the perfect way to subsidize mobile sharing services. But like Netflix did with its disastrous Qwikster idea, Instagram needs to reverse course quickly and think about what it has done.

The Facebook Doctrine

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing app that Facebook bought for about $700 million, has been doing something new over the past few weeks. Up until now, one couldn’t see all of a user’s Instagrams online, the way you could, say, see all of a Twitter users’ tweets. But in recent weeks, users’ collections have been uploaded to the Internet automatically (see my profile page as an example). Instagram never bothered to ask for permission. Don’t want people to be able to easily access all your pictures from your Web browser? Too bad.

Between the Instagram change and other more substantive and complex alterations to Facebook’s user-feedback policy this week, the world’s largest social network has a clear modus operandi: What’s good for Facebook is good for you. This is the Facebook Doctrine.

Along with relatively innocuous Instagram changes came word that Facebook intends to eliminate its very modest experiment with democracy. It was a scheme by which members could undo changes (but still not stop them from happening before they took place). The rules Facebook put in place established a transparent process: A policy could be reversed if it received more than 7,000 comments, more than 30 percent of people on Facebook participated in a vote, and if that plurality voted against it.

Instagram’s Facebook filter

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant’s forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

Kleiner-backed Cooliris launches new website for photo-sharing service

Another photo sharing website has come into play. But this one is not new and already has a fairly decent following in the all-important mobile space.

LiveShare, the brainchild of Palo Alto startup Cooliris, is currently available as an app on iOS and Android mobile devices. But the company has now created a presence outside of these mobile platforms by launching a Web-based platform, which makes the service a bit more independent.

The website, which went live today,  is targeted mainly at  students, digital moms, young professionals and ex-pats who want to communicate effectively, Cooliris co-founder and Chief Executive Soujanya Bhumkar said. The app, in particular, has some streed cred amongst the ex-pat community.

Who’s Facebook going to buy next? Put your money on Foursquare

Facebook Director of Marketing Mike Hoefflinger announces a new "Premium on Facebook" service in New York City

The news Facebook is buying mobile photo app start-up Instagram has sparked off speculation that social networking giant might go on a buying spree in the run-up, and after, its expected $100 billion initial public offering in a few weeks.

Irish betting house Paddy Power, in a fairly transparent PR stunt, has sent out the odds it’s offering punters who want to bet who would be next on Facebook’s list. In a sure sign that the list of names was rustled up overnight right after the news (a bit like today’s blog actually) the list starts off with more than a modicum of respectability with solid names like location-based check-in app company Foursquare at odds of  4 to 1  and note-taking service Evernote at 9 to 2. It follows with some other interesting names like Dropbox, Spotify and Pinterest all in single digit odds.

Stop SOPA banners might morph in future protests

Getting people to add “STOP SOPA” banners to their Twitter and Facebook profile photos was more than just a message about pending legislation.

The banners, which swept the Internet in recent days, allowed people to quickly signal opposition to the antipiracy bills known as PIPA and SOPA, which many critics say are too broad. They are the brainchild of Greg Hochmuth, an engineer at photo site Instagram, and former Google product manager Hunter Walk, who created the site blackoutsopa.org.

“Profile pictures are becoming more and more omnipresent in our interface-heavy lives,” Hochmuth told Reuters in an email. “We thought: why not let people take more ownership of these pixels?” He envisions people using similar banners in the future, to get out all kinds of messages.

The $41 million mobile app – or the Web bubble debate, now in full color!

Bubble or no bubble?ColorScreen

The debate has become a favorite pastime within the Internet industry, as startup valuations soar and investors vie to buy shares of hot private companies in the secondary market.

On Wednesday evening, a photo-sharing app maker called Color opened a spigot of fuel onto the fire when it revealed that it had raised a whopping $41 million before even launching its product.

“Think I might have just heard the bubble pop,” said one of many bewildered tweets that followed the news.