Friday, 21 December 2012

Instagram

By now everyone in the Western hemisphere is probably sick of two stories: first, the supposed end of the world which, despite being quashed by everyone who's had even the most fleeting of contacts with scientific though, still has hundreds of proponents.

I'm not going to go into why the world isn't going to end - it's been done before by people with a greater handle on science than me - but I will say that if it does, it's been an absolute pleasure knowing each and every one of you. And I'm gutted that I turned down that credit card I was offered.

The other story is Instagram, and their stupidity in trying to grab away their users' content in such a brazen fashion. On a social network, where everyone shares images, to imagine that your ToS would stay subtly hidden for any more than five minutes is laughably naive. The fact that it was done in a fairly underhand way has simply worsened the effect.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. It's as true now as it has ever been, and the fact remains that if you are using a free service then somewhere along the line you're going to pay for it. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn - they all sell your information to advertisers. If you're being given something for free, consider that perhaps you are the product.

The problem Instagram also faces is that there are an awful lot of competitors snapping at its heels. A social network which is mostly mobile and based around taking pictures is fairly easy to replicate, more so now than ever. Facebook, which has had a long time to entrench itself in the market, is almost unassailable - even if Google+'s claims that it has 400 million users is true, it simply doesn't measure up to the 1 billion that Facebook passed in late September this year.

However, Instagram have at least responded smartly. They wrote a blog explaining what was going on and have stated that they will revert to the old ToS on January 19. The response is strong, well set out and clear - with a lovely little compliment at the end to soften the anger of these online campaigners. It's a beautiful piece of writing, and should hopefully smooth the feathers of certain users.

Looking ahead, though, it would still have been better to have not done it in the first place. Your users need to trust you, and things like this - no matter how quickly and how well they are managed - chip away at that trust. Winning it back is going to be an uphill struggle.