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An Exploration of Branding, Design and Cultural Trends

Keep Calm And Instagram On: #NoFilter

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This week's Instagram fiasco told an interesting story beyond that over user's rights. I woke up on Tuesday to a slew of privacy right screen shots and declarations that Flickr was the new, old, new old.. you get the idea. I downloaded the new Flickr app just to see what all the hype was about and while it was definitely an improvement over the old app, I still wasn't terribly impressed as it forced me to switch between the mobile website and app. But that's not the point.

Everyone had their own, very strong opinion. Some Facebook friends declared how happy they were because they thought Instagram was dumb. Personally, I think they're dumb and were missing the entire point of Instagram in focusing on its filter functionality. HINT... intimate life sharing and relationship building! Many declared they'd be deleting their account in mid January before the new user rights came into effect. I just absorbed the conversation.

As a former art buyer, purchasing stock imagery and hiring photographers, I knew right off the bat that there was no way a photo of me via Instagram would find its way into a banner ad on Facebook. First off, unless Facebook has some sort of secret image recognizing technology or thousands of visually trained photo editors, there is no way an art buyer or photo editor is going to shift through millions of untagged photos to find the right image. For every breathtaking sunset, there are probably at least one hundred boring, blurry, under exposed, or plain visually unappealing photos. And beyond separating the good from the bad, most stock photos are tediously key worded from the more obvious descriptions to the more esoteric. Who would they hire to do that?

Now let's say that they've somehow shifted through the photos and pulled out a handful that they deem sellable. Do you think any photo buyer would risk getting fired or sued just to use an Instagram photo when they have plenty of model released, legally acquired photos from Getty, Shutterstock and iStockPhoto? When I worked for an agency owned by a major holding company, we weren't even allowed to experiment with some of the lesser known stock agencies unless vetted by legal. In fact, every photo used was carefully tracked and assurances were made that the photos had model releases and the stock agency legally owned the photo. While imagery is more important than ever, the stock industry isn't necessarily growing. Rumor has it that 20 year old Corbis, Bill Gates' pet project, is just starting to turn a profit. And while startups like Foap seemed like an exciting idea, I don't know anyone who has actually made a sale of their photo.

So now let's get back to the users. What I found truly interesting about the situation was that as social network users we're becoming increasingly freaked out over the usage of our data. Yes, by all means, it seems oddly more terrifying to have a company profit over our "art" than the cumulative use of our data. But people come on! We've come to expect so much from startups without giving them anything in return. Instagram has introduced me to new friends. I've gotten job interviews through building relationships on the site. I've learned new recipes. I've discovered new restaurants / foods. I've been inspired. I've been moved. And I've been encourage. All through a service that I got for free.

So what can Instagram do to make a profit? Remember when the startup moto used to be, give people something for free and then once they have users, make them pay? Instagram could get away with changing a yearly fee, or creating a pro vs regular account like Flickr. They could work with advertisers like Tumblr to create branded content. Or they can even crowdsource from their loyal users to find out a better way to sustain the service. Now excuse me while I check my feed.

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